First Magahi novel presents a glimpse of Bihar bureaucracy a century ago

Abhay K.’s translation offers the delightful satire to new generation of readers

GN Bureau | April 30, 2024


#Abhay K.   #Fiction   #Corruption   #Bureaucracy   #History   #Bihar  
Abhay K., poet, translator and diplomat
Abhay K., poet, translator and diplomat

Fool Bahadur
By Jayanath Pati (Translated by Abhay K.)
Penguin Modern Classics, 112 pages, Rs 250

Babu Samlal was a mukhtar [a legal practitioner in a lower court] of some repute in Bihar Sharif, but he had earned his fame and fortune by stooping rather low in his professional and personal conduct.

Thus begins ‘Fool Bahadur’, a small novel in Magahi, written in 1928 by Jayanath Pati (1890-1939), himself a muhktar. His first novel, ‘Sunita’, about a woman married to an elderly man, has apparently not survived (though it merited a review, that too by S.K. Chatterjee, in the famed ‘Modern Review). The same year, however, he went on to publish a third one too, ‘Gadahnit’. These together were the first novels in Magahi. Thanks to poet-diplomat Abhay K., it is now available in an English translation.

Published on April Fool’s Day, ‘Fool Bahadur’ is a delightful satire on the workings of bureaucracy as well as of society in the colonial Bihar. Pranksters make a fool of Samlal, the protagonist, on that day by bestowing on him the fake title of ‘Rai Bahadur’ – something he desperately wanted to have. Through his travails we are shown the rampant corruption in the judiciary and administration of that day.

The translator in his note presents a detailed note on the history of Magadh, its society and literature, which will be of interest to scholars and readers alike. A novella of eight chapters, it is an amusing tale that also proves the adage that more things change, the more they remain the same.

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