A one-stop store for audio books of Bengali stories, as contemporary
Sreejata Guha, 40, the brain behind this initiative to make Bengali audio books, has been fascinated by words all her life. As a Bengali child growing up in Chennai, as a student of comparative literature at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, as a PhD scholar working on translation theory at Stony Brook University in New York, and then as a translator and editor living and working in Bangalore, the written word has been her stock in trade. She has translated several Bengali classics, including works by Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. An online store for Bengali audio books was the logical next step, especially when all the experts she needed for such a venture were in the family—her husband Dipankar Ganguly, 42, a vice-president at Ness Technologies, had over two decades of experience in the technology industry. Her mother Swapna Guha, 60, is a veteran of the Kolkata theatre circuit, writing, producing radio and audio plays (shruti-natak) with her troupe, Baakchitri.
As a literary translator, Sreejata had always felt that the author’s voice suffers a loss in translation “because the words you choose while translating are your own, not the author’s,” she says. “Translations are necessary because it carries over to other cultures and readers. You also feel the pain of loss because of you, the translator,” she adds.
Audio gurus: Sreejata Guha (left) and Dipankar Ganguly say Shonakatha will be a subscribed service on cellphones. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury
Having lived mostly outside Bengal, she was also troubled by the diaspora’s inability to access its native literature, both due to a lack of fluency in reading Bengali script and its availability. Audio books, she realized, would also preserve the author’s voice without any loss.
Shonakatha went online in March. Its store has short stories by stalwarts like Tagore, Sarat Chandra and Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. The stories, sans any music or other theatrical props, are recorded by professional theatre artistes of Swapna’s group in the tradition of Dastangoi, which depends solely on the narrator’s voice for its element of drama. There’s a synopsis and a 2-minute preview of the stories available on the site. The stories can be downloaded at Rs30 for a single story and Rs150 for five.
On the third day after going online, Shonakatha made its first sale. “Eventually, we would like to venture into regional literary traditions like Tamil, Marathi, etc.,” says Ganguly.
“For something new like this, especially in India, it would take about 12 months to dip the thermometer in and gauge the temperature,” says Ganguly. The one question that has been on the couple’s mind is the timing of the venture. “Frankly, we have asked ourselves—are we too early for this kind of venture?’”
“If after two years the volume is still low, then there are two options: One is online archiving,” says Ganguly. The other alternative is to provide content to big players such as Reliance and Saregama which, Ganguly says, are entering the audio books segment. “All three of us are stubborn people and we’re confident of Shonakatha’s success,” he says.
Shonakatha’s greatest strength is its team. Sreejata says, “Each of us bring in unique skills to the whole mix.” Ganguly, the technology expert, says that while Sreejata is the general architect, Swapna brings her experience of theatre to the actual production of the books.