Jyotirindra Mohan Joardar’s ‘Following My Heart’ Or ‘Manua’: Unearthing A Time Capsule Through An Anecdotal Journey

Jyotirindra Mohan Joardar’s Manua, rendered in English as Following My Heart, offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of a man witnessing such momentous events as the birth of India as a free nation-state, the formation of the independent state of Orissa, and the Christening of Bhubaneswar as the capital city. The book also gives a candid account of a person who always chose to live life on his own terms. Furthermore, as a memoir written by someone who was a prolific translator, Following My Heart is a self-reflexive celebration of the pleasures and travails of translation, making it unique among autobiographies penned in Odia.

Joardar was born to Brahmo parents in Calcutta in the year 1914, quite literally pushed into a world that was undergoing a paradigm shift. He moved to Cuttack at the tender age of five, spending there not only his most impressionable years but a great part of his adulthood as well. He evokes a Cuttack long vanished, writing about a time when no Hirakud Dam stunted the majestic flow of the Kathajodi river. Joardar’s memories of Cuttack are not like the wrinkled corners of an ancient painting, they are narrated with loving attention to detail, a testament to the enduring impact of the city, especially its landscape, on the author’s psyche. The nostalgia conjured by this part of the narrative is more than personal. It implicitly mourns for the contemporary life so thoroughly divorced from nature. No such rapturous memories for the present inhabitants of concrete jungles; not for them to say as the author hauntingly says:

I never imagined I would spend the last phase of my life away from Kathajodi and its wondrous form… That they existed like water and air and would go on existing like that forever was something my unconscious mind had taken for granted. (26)

In the course of the memoir, Joardar recalls his close relationship with a dazzling gallery of people whose contribution in their respective fields has made their names a permanent fixture in the annals of modern Odisha. The memoir features such luminaries as the acclaimed writers Annada Shankar Ray, Bamacharan Mitra, Gopinath Mohanty and Surendra Mohanty; freedom fighter and polymath Manmohan Choudhury, son of the illustrious freedom fighter Gopabandhu Choudhury; Mohini Mohan Senapati, professor of Philosophy at Ravenshaw College and son of the legendary Fakir Mohan Senapati; Laxmikanta Choudhury, professor of Sanskrit at Ravenshaw College and grandson of the Vyasakabi, who founded the Utkal Sangeet Samaj; classical music expert Khitish Chandra Maitra, and former Chief Minister Biju Patnaik, to name a few.

The book is filled with charming little anecdotes involving these stalwarts, like the young Biju Babu, who, in a display of his characteristic audacity, took his friends for a ride in a car without brakes, without the latter’s knowledge. Another episode shows the author and his friends losing themselves in an impromptu concert performed by a young village boy who would be eventually known as Sangeeta Sudhakara Balakrushna Das. In yet another instance, Joardar fondly reminisces about Mohini Mohan Senapati getting comically lost in thought while alighting from a rickshaw, the very picture of the absent-minded philosopher. Reading the memoir feels like a veritable unearthing of a time capsule.

In a panoply of revered names, two or three stand out by virtue of their respective roles in cementing certain life-long passions of the author. One is Bamacharan Mitra or Boul, a childhood friend of the author and partner-in-crime in many juvenile adventures. A memorable scene from the memoir shows the duo trying to swim across the swollen waters of Kathajodi. The author would continue to pursue his love for swimming after marriage, this time accompanied by his wife.

Another dear childhood friend is Manmohan Choudhury or Bulu, whose family subscribed to the influential Bengali children’s magazine Sandesh which was a source of immense delight to the two teens. They were particularly enthralled by the works of Sukumar Ray, father of legendary auteur Satyajit Ray. The senior Ray was an abiding literary presence in Joardar’s formative years. The latter writes with enthusiasm about reading AbolTabol, Ray’s collection of nonsense verse, and Laxman’s Wonder Weapon, a mythological children’s play gleefully enacted by the two boys who would take turns playing Rama and Ravana. The other memorable person in Joardar’s life was a friend made at a later stage, the Hindustani music expert and chess enthusiast Khitish Chandra Maitra or Khetuda, as the author addressed him. Maitra was Joardar’s guru in chess, and together with some other chess aficionados they had founded the Ruy Lopez Club in Cuttack, which was as much a chess club as it was an intellectual adda. The author played a significant role in popularising chess in Odisha.

Another less familiar but nonetheless riveting character in the memoir is Amjad Ali Garate or Amjad-da, an Anglo-Indian who had converted to Islam due to certain theological doubts. He not only remained a devoted friend until he breathed his last, but also helped refine the author’s translation skills in the English language. Joardar learned from Garate about ‘Basic English,’ a concept pioneered by C. K. Ogden which argued that a limited repertoire of useful, ordinary words could help anyone master the English language. Amjad-da also inspired in the author a fascination for the thesaurus, the conceptual opposite of Basic English. The enduring desire to dive into the nuances of a language bespeaks the author’s predisposition towards the art of translation.

As a native Bengali domiciled in Odisha, with a penchant for the literary, it could be argued that Joardar was almost predestined to embark upon a journey in translation. With a characteristic simplicity of style, he states that the profoundly human desire to share the object of one’s admiration lies at the heart of translation:

(If) a book is enjoyable, a similar urge is felt to have one’s dearest friends read it. If the book is in a language other than one’s own, then one desires to translate it… (138)

The very first book translated by the author was Arthur Conan Doyle’s novella MaracotDeep. Later on, he translated into Bengali such path-breaking novels in Odia as Fakirmohan’s Chha Mana Atha Guntha, Surendra Mohanty’s Nila Saila, and Gopinath Mohanty’s Amrutara Santana.

Joardar gives the reader interesting backstories behind each translation, making one realise just how much serendipity often lies behind the birth of the most adept of translators. Joardar has also translated the short stories of Parshuram (alias of the Bengali writer RajshekharBasu) into English, which were published under the moniker Not All in Fun. The memoir, despite its modest, unobtrusive style, makes the author’s love for translation amply clear. It is quite telling that the narrative is liberally peppered with interesting trivia about texts in translation, be it about Abol Tabol’s rendition into Odia as Agad Bagad or IswarchandraVidyasagar’s Bengali translation of Aesop’s Fables, which the author had devoured as a child.

The translators of Following My Heart, Himansu S. Mohapatra and Paul St-Pierre have done a commendable job, making the text accessible to a legion of readers. The tone of intimacy, so crucial to memoirs, has been wonderfully preserved in the translation. Perhaps it would be no exaggeration to say that the author, had he been alive to see his memoir’s English reincarnation, would have been satisfied as a fellow translator. That Joardar decided to write his memoir in Odia rather than in his mother tongue Bengali serves to show how much he truly embodied the spirit of translation, which is that of transcending borders: A language is not a prison; it is an invitation to an ever-expanding universe. Following My Heart is an affirmative overture in that direction.

(Following My Heart. By Jyotirindra Mohan Joardar. Translated by Himansu S. Mohapatra and Paul St-Pierre. Bhubaneswar: Dhauli Books, 2023. Pp. 158. Price. INR 795.)


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