Paulo Coelho in a note on his 1987-Novel The Alchemist, wrote—before the novel was translated from Portuguese to English—that he one day received a letter from HarperCollins that read, ‘reading The Alchemist was like getting up at dawn and seeing the sun rise while the rest of the world still slept.’ He then went on to say, ‘I went outside, looked up at the sky and thought to myself, ‘”So, the book is going to be translated.”’
The Alchemist, is a fiction about ‘magic, dreams and the treasure we seek elsewhere and then find on our doorstep.’ This instantly links my memory to an oft-quoted six-line poem of Rabindranath: I travelled for many a year/I spent a lot in lands afar/I’ve gone to see the mountains/The oceans, I’ve been to view/But I haven’t seen with these eyes/Just two steps from my home lies/On a sheaf of paddy grain/A glistening drop of dew.(Copyright Ananrita De).In fact a glistening drop of dew’ is what Santiago, Paulo’s shepherd boy, adventured to find as his dream ‘treasure’.
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The book brought immediate fame and recognition for the writer and was translated into different languages of the world. Paulo himself being a dreamer—(or else how he could detail the dream of a shepherd boy in the novel!)—wrote in the same note of his, ‘. . . little by little, my dream was becoming reality.’ Yes, it was like the dream of his shepherd boy we find in his The Alchemist who dreamt of ‘travelling the world in search of a treasure.’ But there is a subtle difference. While Santiago was looking for a metaphorical treasure from an alchemist, Paulo was dreaming of selling millions of copies of his translated novel—and ironically enough the boy had to get back to the same place from where he had started his journey whereas, the writer became one of the most widely read [translated in 80 different languages including Bangla and sold 65 million copies so far] and loved authors in the world.’ Meaning, Paulo’s dream came true aspiring millions of reader worldwide to dream—his reader-list includes President Bill Clinton, a girl and her mother from Miami and celebrity actress Julia Roberts.Paulo Coelho is really fortunate to see all this in his lifetime.
The novel has been translated in Bangla and there is, in fact, more than one translation of the same as there are many translations in other languages too. One of which has been adapted for the stage recently in Dhaka by Professor Reza Arif, Department of Natyakola and Natyatotto, Jahangirnagar University. He transformed the novel into a play from Chunilal Bondopadhya’s Bangla translation from Alen R. Clarke’s English translation—that is, the drama version is actually from the translation of a translation.
Adaptation of a novel into drama is a work of conversion from one genre to another, which is obviously not an easy task. Though this practice is there all over the world (many world classics like The Grapes of the Wrath, Crime and Punishment and To Kill a Mocking Bird had acclaimed stage versions), in Bangladesh this is frequently done. Many of Tagore’s and Sharatchandra’s short stories and novels have been adapted for the stage and a good number of them have been successfully performed too.As far as I know Kajol and Karan Johar, two celebrities of Indian screen, did a book reading performance of The Alchemist.
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The drama version of The Alchemist in Bangla by Reza Arif is a good and praiseworthy endeavor. He very deftly and creditably metamorphosed the novel into a play no doubt, for he expertly percolated the dramatic elements in his adaptation and direction. The audience who had read the novel before could distinctly track the quest, adventure, fantasy, magic and dream of the shepherd boy Santiago created by Paulo Coelho save one (of course not to mention weak acting)—absence of sublimity, smooth mobility and tranquility of his narrative. Perhaps that is the prime problem in the interpenetration between genres.
The writer is a theatre activist, playwright and theatre critic. He is also a Bangla Academy awardee for translation.