Satish Jacob | Photo (c) Bharat S Tiwari

The bank of Euphrates was guarded by thousands of armed military men, determined to cut off Hussein’s party from any access to the river...hired by Yazid and would honour his orders even at the cost of their lives. 

Ocean of Melancholy — Mir Mosharraf Hossain

Ocean of Melancholy, better known as the translation of Bishad Sindhu, an epic historical novel by Mir Mosharraf Hossain, has been translated by Alo Shome.

The book, which is an epic fiction, imparts a historical background to the bloodbath and killings that took place in Karbala, Iraq. The novel provides us with insights into different characters, the pains and anguish of human life, jealousy and hatred of humans, and, at the same time, provides a historical background to the clash that ensued over a throne. As quoted by Alo Shome, the translator of the book, ‘I had already translated several of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s essays, most of which were, by default, on Hinduism. However, I am not a religious person myself, but am only objectively curious about religion as it is a part of human culture. Thankfully, Bishad Sindhu gave me an opportunity to gain much knowledge about Islam. Through its translation I could express my respect and love for another faith other than the one I inherited.

Satish Jacob, Prof Jayanti Chattopadhyay and Prof Gauhar Raza were the three eminent speakers on the dias who launched the book on 20th September 2018 at India International Centre, New Delhi.

Satish Jacob a proud Shahjahanbadi, ex Deputy Bureau Chief of the BBC in Delhi, shared his memories on Muharram . Pretty excited with the book he says, “It’s like the translator has not translated but has written it originally in English”. He deeply feels that it’s unfortunate that people are not familiar with the tragedy of Muharram and the battle of Karbala, which this translation fiction beautifully portrays.

Prof Raza said that this translation is a novel itself, which is meant to be read as an English text independently. | Photo (c) Bharat S Tiwari
Trisha de Niyogi | Photo (c) Bharat S Tiwari
Trisha de Niyogi, the publisher, Niyogi Books, says, ‘Ocean of Melancholy’ is a work of historical fiction, where, though the facts have never been distorted, yet multiple imaginary characters and hypothetical situations have been brought in to not only to enhance the interests of the reader, but also to give us a geo-political picture of the time.’

Apart from calling it an important contribution in the genre of literature, they highly applauded the book for the richness of its language.

Jayanti Chattopadhyay Photo (c) Bharat S Tiwari
The book launch witnessed a plethora of contrasting views about the book. Jayanti Chattopadhyay strongly compared the two versions to conclude saying that the original did not use Arabic/Persian words and instead used more Sanskritised words. Also as she mentions, before writing Bishad Sindhu, Mir Mosharraf Hossain concentrated and wrote more of the Hindu culture and later, which is after writing the epic history, his writings shifted towards the Muslim traditions and culture. As she quotes  “Bishad Sindhu  is a watershed moment in the author’s literary career”.

Prof Gauhar Raza, Satish Jacob, Kuldeep Kumar and Sohail Hashmi Photo (c) Bharat S Tiwari
The evening had among other luminaries Prof Anisur Rahman, Prof Chandramohan, K. Subramanium, Sohail Hashmi, Bharat S Tiwari and Kuldeep Kumar.

Read: Excerpts from Shashi Tharoor's , Why I Am a Hindu

Dust-e-Karbala—Remembering Muharram 

(Excerpts from the book)

Missing the right turn to Kufa, Hussein’s caravan went northward ahead. In a while, the horses’ hooves began to make cuplike depressions in the ground. Noticing it, Hussein held up his hand and asked his party to stop. He was reflective and grave, for he knew what that phenomenon meant. It meant that the soil on which the horses galloped was vastly different from that of any other place he had visited. Yes, he remembered now; he remembered that his grandfather had predicted it—his horse’s hooves would cut the ground when it reached Karbala.
Hussein looked around. There was a wooded area further on the right. But on his left and in front of him, as far as he could see, was desolated ground covered with nothing but sand. The wind howled as if to groan, ‘Alas, alas!’

There was no doubt in the Imam’s mind that he had reached Dust-e-Karbala—the place where he was destined to die. He consulted his calendar. It was the eighth day of the month of Muharram.

‘Brothers,’ Hussein called his people, ‘no need to travel further. We have missed Kufa and reached Karbala. Now, this is going to be our camping ground. Fortunately, River Furat flows nearby. There will be no dearth of water.’

The Imam’s companions were happy for a respite from continuous travelling. 

A group of servants were sent to bring wood and another to fetch water while the tents were being pitched. There descended a pleasant picnic mood over the party. But then, the boys who had gone to collect firewood came back bewildered to tell a strange story. ‘The trees are bleeding,’ they said. ‘Look at our axes! They are bloodstained.’

The campers gathered around to inspect the strange sight. ‘What does this portend?’ some of them asked. 

Hussein tried to reveal to his disciples the meaning of the weird manifestation without putting them into panic, ‘This only confirms that where we have come is Dust-e-Karbala. Anybody who dies here goes to heaven. But there is no harm in cutting the wood. Don’t get scared.’  

The servants who had gone to get water, however, brought back a truly distressing report. They recounted how the bank of Euphrates was guarded by thousands of armed military men, determined to cut off Hussein’s party from any access to the river. The sentries had said that they were hired by Yazid and would honour his orders even at the cost of their lives. 

Ocean of Melancholy:
One of the best known works of Mir Mosharraf Hossain, Bishad Sindhu (Ocean of Melancholy) is an epic historical novel centred on events that led to the battle of Karbala and its aftermath. The book revolves around the tragic story of Hassan and Hussein, grandsons of the great Prophet Muhammad, who were exterminated by their bitter enemy Yazid, the son of the king of Damascus, for his desire for Zainab—Hassan’s beautiful wife—and his greed for the throne of Medina.

Sohail Hashmi | Photo (c) Bharat S Tiwari
The plot is dramatic, has a mythical undertone to it, and deeds of heroism and supernatural occurrences render an epic flavour to its narrative. The storyline explores the sufferings and agonies of human life and the covetousness and hatred of men, and, at the same time, imparts a historical background to the bloodbath and killings that took place in Karbala, Iraq on the 10th of October, AD 680.

Read: Excerpts from Shashi Tharoor's , Why I Am a Hindu

The AuthorMir Mosharraf Hossain was born in 1847 to the zamindar of Padamdi, a bright boy from his early childhood. He started his education his education under a good maulvi. He was deeply interested in Arabic, Persian, and Bengali literature. Mir contributed his writings to various journal, mainly in Sangbad Hitokar and Gram Barta Prakashik. Mir authored thirty-five books of which Bishad Sindhu (1885–1891) is applauded as his best.
Hossain was a pioneer among nineteenth-century Bengali Muslim writers. His first novel Ratnavati was published in 1869. Apart from novels, Hossain wrote poetry, plays, textbooks, and an autobiography. Among his works some are Gauri-Setu (1873), Basantakumari Natak (1873), Zamindar Durpun (1873), Bishad Sindhu (1885–1891), Sabgit Lahari (1887), and many more. He was outspoken and free from communal prejudices and did not hesitate to take up positions that would make him unpopular among his own community. In much of his writing, Hossain satirized the follies and vices of contemporary societies.

Reading part of the book she edited. | Photo (c) Bharat S Tiwari
The Translator, Alo Shome, the translator, is a freelance writer and poet. Her selected and translated collection of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s essays Many Threads of Hinduism, and her translation of Bankim’s study of Sri Krishna’s personality Krishna Charitra have been published by Harper Collins (2015). Her poems (published in Poetry Chain) were also critically appreciated in The Hindu in 2002.
Trisha De Niyogi of Niyogi Books says about the publication, we take pride in bringing forth such great works by great authors. Being an internationally acclaimed publishing house, we have more than 500 titles today. We not only specialize in textual context, but also strive to give equal importance to visuals. We purvey a wide range of content on art, architecture, history, culture, spirituality, memoirs, and every aspect which connects with our rich heritage.

Under our belt, we have fiction and non-fiction that cover books on social science, cookery, and self-help, as well as English translation of modern classics from different Indian languages. Niyogi Books has recently launched three new imprints: Olive Turtle (English fiction), Thornbird (English Translation), and Paper Missile (English non-fiction).

Read: Excerpts from Shashi Tharoor's , Why I Am a Hindu

Also, we have co-published a number of critically acclaimed books with reputed institutions like British Library, Rietberg Museum, Zurich, IGNCA, National Gallery of Modern Art, Ministry of Culture (Govt. of India), National Manuscript Mission, Sahitya Akademi, among many others.

All Photographs (c) Bharat S Tiwari

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