The works of Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay may not be as widely, or regularly, translated into English but his literary reputation has been strengthened by several film adaptations. Two of his novels form the premise of Satyajit Ray’s much acclaimed Apu Trilogy, made in the 1950s. More recently, in 2013, his popular children’s novel, Chander Pahar (literally, the mountain of the moon), was turned into perhaps the most expensive Bengali film ever made.
The novel tells the story about an ordinary young Bengali man, Shankar Ray Choudhary, he adventures in Africa in the year 1909 and 1910. After graduating from college at 20th years old , his family’s financial struggles almost force him takes a job in a jute mill in Shyamnagar- a prospective he absolutely loathes. By a stroke of love, he gets a job as a clerk at Uganda railway and rushes to the Africa without a second thought. After a few months laying rail tracks, he encounters the first of many dangers in pre-World War 1 Africa: a man eating lion. where he narrowly escapes a deadly Black Mamba. While at this post, Shankar encounters, rescues and nurses Diego Alvarez, a middle-age Portuguese explorer and gold/diamond prospector. Alvarez’s arrival becomes a turning point in Shankar’s life. While recovering, Alvarez describes his exploits in Africa with his friend Jim Carter. He explains that, lured by the prospect of a priceless yellow diamond from a Kaafi village chief, Alvarez and Carter searched for these yellow diamond caves, on the Mountain of the Moon (Chander Pahar) in the Richtersveld. Shankar, inspired by Alvarez’s exploits, resigns from his job and accompanies Alvarez to venture again for the mines. They meet hardships, like a racist gambler, legends about Dingonek the monster and later, a raging volcano. Eventually, they get lost in the forests where Alvarez is killed by the Bunyip. Demoralised, Shankar tries to return to civilization. He finds the Bunyip’s cave and the diamond mines by accident. Almost getting lost, he finds the remains of the Italian explorer, Attilio Gatti, and learns that the cave is in fact the diamond mine.
Leaving, he becomes lost in the deserts of kalahari and nearly dies of thirst. Fortunately, he is rescued by a survey team and taken to a hospital in salisbury, Rhodesia, from where he sets sail for home. Before going back, he writes his account in a newspaper, earning him money. He names the volcano after Alvarez. He ends the book saying that he will return to the cave one day with a large team, and continue the legacy of Alvarez, Carter, and Gatti.
The Mountain of the Moon, being ever so quaint and gripping, would be better remembered and endeared by readers (the assumption here is that they are Bengali) who encountered it in their childhood, perhaps buried away in the adventure section of their dusty school library. Still, the adventures of Shankar who, armed with erroneous maps and supplies of baboon ham and coffee, seeks to make his mark in an untamed land make for an interesting read.