Friday, March 17, 2006

Sweet (Rosogolla): By Syed Mujtaba Ali (a short story)

(Here is the translation of a Bangla short story written by Syed Mujtaba Ali a very popular writer in Bangla literature. There has been an article about SYed Mujtaba Ali (
The translation of the short story has been done by biplob Kishore Deb, a university student in Dhaka, Bangladesh.)

One of my friends often goes to Europe-America. He goes so often that whenever I meet him, there is no way to say whether he is going to or coming from abroad.

Jhanduda is a businessman. He has got down from a ship in the port of Venice in Italy. After giving honest replies to all the questions of custom house, Jhanduda wrote at the end “a tin of vacuum packed sweet Price ten taka".

Jhanduda’s luggage is full of so many labels of different hotels that any custom agent can understand that this person lives a nomadic life- from hotel to hotel. But today’s custom agent started checking everything carefully like a boy of class one who reads a book making some spelling mistake. His appearance is ugly too- very thin and sickly, a broken cheeked person.

The custom officer asked, “what is in that tin?”

: Sweets

: Open it

: How is it possible? I am carrying it to London. It will be utterly spoilt if I open it. The custom agent looked at Jhanduda furiously that apparently meant an order to Jhanduda to open the tin - even a king can not enforce such an order through beating five hundred drums.

Jhanduda requested him with a sorrowful eye, "brother I am carrying this tin for my friend’s daughter in London, if I open, it will be wasted".

But this time, the custom agent looked at Jhanduda in such a way as if I heard the sound of beating of thousand drums.

Mighty Jhanduda told him miserably, with the eyes of an ant, "then you please send the tin to London through the postal service, I will receive it there".

But surprisingly, the custom agent did not agree even to this idea. We all tried to make the butcher understand that Jhanduda’s proposal was very reasonable and legitimate. The custom agent did not bother it as if he did not understand any language of the world.

Jhanduda became angry. He mumbled himself, "well, I will open it. But you can not go without tasting it".
After that, he told the agent in English, “but you have to taste it yourself.”

The evil person had brought out a tin cutter. Before start cutting Jhanduda again made him remember “you have to taste it yourself, I am telling you again.”

The custom agent gave a dry laugh as if his lips had became dry from winter cold.

Jhanduda finally cut the tin.
What did come out? sweets. Without caring for spoon, Jhanduda first distributed sweets among the Bengalis, then Indians and all French, German Italians, Spanish.

The whole custom house then, started tasting sweets. The whole environment was juicy. From armed police to liveried servant of custom house- all were eating sweet.

On the other hand, Jhanduda, pushing his pot-bally to the counter, and requested the custom agent, “Please taste a sweet.” A juicy sweet was in his hand.

The custom agent slightly took his neck back and became some afraid. But Jhanduda is an obstinate person. He came forward to the agent and told him again, “Please look, everybody is eating. Please taste what a good thing it is.”

The custom agent took his neck back again. The man is a stone-hearted. Even he did not care for a formal expression “sorry”.

Suddenly without any notice, Jhandua grasped his shirt’s collar with the grip of his left hand and with the right hand he flattened a sweet on the custom agent’s nose and told him in a loud voice, “You will not eat!! You have to eat. Idiot, you are joking with me. I tried to make you understand that the sweets will be spoilt but you did not care.”

By this time, the whole environment of the custom house turned into a tumultuous state and it is not unusual because it is an illegal activity. Most of the time, the guilty person is sent to the prison.

We five or six persons tried to get Jhanduda out from the counter. He was repeatedly shouting, “You do not eat, oh! My sweet heart (used in a sarcastic sense), you do not eat.” The custom agent was calling police in a faint voice. But no police was there. What a magic, everybody including armed guard, soldier, messenger, captain, servant were completely invisible.

By this time, after a hard struggle, we were able to take Jhanduda out from the counter. Seeing the custom agent wiping the flattened sweets from his face, Jhanduda shouted “do not wipe, it will give the testimony in the court.”

One from the crowed uggested Jhanduda to flee before police came.

Jhanduda replied, “no, he is calling, let his officer come.”

Within three minutes, forcing his way through a crowed, the officer came. Jhanduda requested the officer, “before starting the investigation please taste a sweet” and then Jhanduda himself took a sweet and distributed among us for the second time. The officer took one and closed his eyes for two and a half minute. Keeping his eyes closed, the officer extended his hand for another piece of sweet- hen again and again.

Then tin became empty.

The custom agent told his complain to the officer.

The officer said, "It was very good that you opened the tin, otherwise how could we taste it?" Looking at us the officer said, "Why are you standing here? Go and bring more sweets". When we were leaving the room we apparently heard that the officer was telling the agent, “You are really a stupid. You forced him to open the tin but did not taste the juicy sweet.”

I started singing,

Hi juicy circle, how juicy you are,
Italians forgot their duties and surrendered to you.

1. Rosogolla is perhaps the most popular local sweet in Bangladesh.
2. Taka is the name of currency in Bangladesh


  1. I enjoyed this short story by Syed Mujtaba Ali and would love to read more by him. It has also created in me a craving for "rosogulla"! :)

    I must confess I know of hardly any Bangla writers on the international literary scene, except perhaps for Monica Ali and her wonderful book "Brick Lane".

    Would love to know of more up and coming Bangla writers that write in English. Can you make a few recommendations?

  2. Unfortunately very few Bangladeshi writers write in English and translations of their works are rare too. That is why I have started this blog. I am happy that you enjoyed the short story. I and two of my students are trying to translate some writings from Bangla literature.

  3. I commend you on your initiative and will certainly bookmoark your blog. I should love to read more stories here in the future.

    Thank you for making Bangla literature available to an English-reading audience.

  4. I enjoyed this story very much. Thanks for dropping by my blog at and leaving a comment.

    Donovan Baldwin

  5. Dear Razib,

    we arre the 1st bilingual Bengali-English webzine Urhalpool( Urhalpool has reached over 25,000 readers in 82 countries. i would love to publish this story of Mujtaba Ali in our July issue of Urhalpool. Please let me know your thoughts.
    Goutam Datta

  6. The quality of Mujtaba ALi is as sweet as Rosogolla ..... no doubt about it.


  7. Anonymous2:03 AM

    This is very pathetic translation of a famous Bengali author's work. In future, please take the help of someone who has a good hold over both languages.

  8. I started reading Syed sahib's books right from year 1970. I have all the volumes of his publication. I started to read his books again. If you read 'deshe bideshe' you will find Afganistan has not changed so far his staying there.
    Probably he was one of the greatest of Bengali writers mother Bengal has ever produced.

  9. i am searching for the story "Bibek" anyway i appreciate your work..Keep going. this is our duty to introduce our literature to others. we are i can guarantee that we will make the difference..cheers