(Fiction – INR 250 /-)
What’s with the Reality-Television hoopla ho? Mediums seem to be falling short and the people interested in jumping onto the bandwagon only seem to be getting more enthusiastic. Binayak Banerjee’s “Sikandar”, translated from Bengali by Soma Ghosh, is Big Boss rehashed – this time with an all Bengali inmate list.
To be fair, it boils down to the chicken or egg question – who came first? Since times immemorial, communication mediums have borrowed from each other. Oscars have been rained on Slumdog Millionaire, adapted from Vikas Swarup’s Q & A. Sab TV airs its top rated Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma, based on the works of Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. The crux therein: the adapted and the adapter both need to have the potential to charm. Though there are reservations, Sikandar may have been a novel concept if we hadn’t already been fed the loud-voiced menagerie on TV over the years. But as things stand, it only ends up being for the reader a rollercoaster ride that they want to jump down from. And regret sitting on in the first place.
The ten people – contestants – are interesting, if stereotypically picked. There’s a Greek God-like actor who’s surrounded by willing women, a sadhu sanyasi who teaches you valuable life lessons and even a prostitute who knows English words like “combat”. In case you are wondering how, you can be assured you will get ample time to delve into the depths of every character. The alternating, first-person narrative leaves you with little choice. But halfway through the book, you have given up bothering about who’s whom and their takes on philosophy get on your nerves. The multiple character thing – of course, inevitable for a book on such a theme – could perhaps have been better handled if everyone didn’t have a lesson from Plato or a story-the-History-teacher-had-narrated to share. The boundaries between the personas dim with every page and it’s muddling to say the least.
Yes, a couple of incidents do manage to catch your attention. A love affair or so, an ill daughter who needs a kidney, a girl who was brutally murdered. The stuff, you know, newspaper headlines are made of. You try to analyze for a bit, even as the contestants kiss and cuddle, slap and shout. They go back and forth in time and drag you by the arm. But beyond a point, the whole enterprise gets the better of you. What was probably intended as an insight on human psychology fails to be delivered. Also the wisecracks, scattered here and there, read staid. It is possible that the staid feel of the interactions is an undesirable by-product of the translation. Though done well, with a clear command over language, the substance of several dialogues seems to have drained. It almost leaves you with a desire to read the original in Bengali and check for yourself.
Sikandar really hasn’t anything new to offer. Read, if you must, and see who takes home the prize money of twenty-five lakhs. Sadly, the readers are denied a share.