Launch of a Hindi book in Bratislava

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Appeared in the March 2013 issue of the monthly journal „Bhasvar Bharat“, published from Hyderabad, India.

         I was introduced to Slovak writer Jozef Banas in December 2012 in the Slovak Embassy in New Delhi.  The Ambassador H.E. Marian Tomasik had organized a special function in the Embassy to introduce the writer to Indian intellectuals, and I was present there with my wife.  Banas read out some extracts from his latest book, the content of which and the presentation by the author were very impressive. Banas had served as a diplomat in the erstwhile Czechoslovakia; Banas, who was Press Attache of his country in East Berlin, and later the charge d’affaires of Slovakia in Vienna,# was considered to be rather strident during the harsh years of communism in Eastern Europe, and also had paid a price for being outspoken, was dismayed by the fact that in the post-perestroika Slovakia the Communists of the yore were changing their colours in order to grab the seats of power, albeit in the garb of staunch democrats.  He decided to bring about a change in the system by joining politics; he established a new party, fought elections, and became a Member of Parliament, but due to his rebellious temperament and deep aversion to corruption he soon had to quit politics. He had by then understood that it was not possible to survive in politics without compromising on one’s principles, be it on national or on international level.  If it was corruption at national level, on international level it was the subservience of super-powers.  As the Vice-President of an important committee of the Security Council of NATO he found that for voicing an opinion he had to toe the line of Soviet Union during the Communist era, and now for every significant or insignificant decision his country had to espouse the cause of Americ. Disgusted with politics he resolved that he would become a writer and expose the hypocrisy prevalent in politics.  And how he succeeded in that! Almost all the literary figures in his book are real people, and in many cases he has also named them. Political leadership in Europe was truly stunned by his revelations. In “Zona Nadsenia” he has changed the name of his own character to Jozef Balas.  For the last ten years he has been publishing one book every year and every book has attained the status of a best-seller.  The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who herself was an East German citizen before the reunification of Germany, in a letter thanked him for describing the true happenings of Eastern Europe in the pre-perestroika period.  
After the launch ceremony in the Slovak Embassy the Slovak Ambassador introduced Banas to me and urged me to translate one of his books into Hindi, if possible.  I requested Banas to send me “Zona Nadsenia” and promised to translate the book, if I felt that the book would be liked by the Hindi readers.  After having heard extracts from his latest book, the main protagonist of which is Vaclav Havel, and many other famous European leaders are its prominent characters, I had to some extent made up my mind to translate his book, and after receiving the book I finally decided that this book must be read by every enlightened Indian.  In this book the complete history of middle and eastern Europe has been encapsulated, beginning from 1968, which was the year of students’ revolution and Soviet intervention in Czekoslovakia, till 2006, when after the fall of Berlin wall, the end of cold war and with that the fall of Iron Curtain, a new history of Europe was being written; politicians like Lyndon B. Johnson, Dubcek, Hussak, Brezhnev, Kosygin, Helmut Kohl, Erich Honecker are some of the characters of this book.  The narrative contains roughly 75% history and 25% personal love-story of Banas, and the years spent by him in the diplomatic service and the political set-up of his country.  The Hindi edition of this book “Berlin ki Deewar ke is or” was launched in the Slovak Embassy in New Delhi on 26 November 2012.
After this started the rounds of our readings of the book in India and Slovakia -  before the students of the  Translation Section in the Hindi Department of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, in Alliance Francois in Chandigarh, where foreigners, especially Germans, had a large presence, in the Defence and National Security Department of the Panjab University, Chandigarh, where most of the students were serving military officers, in the Hindi Departments of Punjabi University, Patiala, and Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla before the Hindi teachers, who had come there from different Universities of India to participate in Refresher Courses meant for them.  Banas was delighted to interact with such an enlightened audience, especially in Patiala, where the Vice-Chancellor of the Punjabi University, Prof. Jaspal Singh, read-out some extracts from the book and remarked that such a book must be translated into Punjabi, and then he immediately instructed the concerned staff to prepare a proposal and send the same to him immediately, so that the University could start the process of publishing the book. Before coming to Delhi Banas had already toured South India like a very ordinary tourist, who travelled second class, ate in roadside dhabas, and lived in small hotels.  He has, in the meanwhile, become a great admirer of India.  In his words India is the land of his dreams, which has spirituality, love for the humanity and much needed tolerance for fellow humans, and this country is an ideal mixture of modernity and tradition.  In his opinion India has a bright future, he got this feeling after talking to many young Indians, who would leave no stone unturned to contribute to the progress of the country, who are getting impatient for changing the system and are prepared to raise their voice against any sort of maladministration in the country.  One of his biggest worries about India is the growing schism between the rich and the poor, and his second worry is the increasing number of cars in the big cities.  He is worried that if the cities become full of cars, then there would be no place left for humans to live on.  Now in his emails he calls India my India.  His next book is about the stay of Jesus Christ in India and in this connection he has lived in Kashmir for some time and done considerable research on this subject during one of his earlier trips.
Before coming to India Banas had written to me that the Slovak launch of the Hindi edition of his book has been planned for 12 December 2013 in the Indian Embassy in Bratislava, and it was the wish of the Indian Ambassador that I should be invited there as the Guest of Honour.  On 6 December he returned to Bratislava and on 8 I also followed him. I had to stay in the Slovak Capital for 3 days… Banas had booked a room for me in the Tatra Hotel, which is situated in the heart of the city…The launch of the book in the Indian Embassy was slated at 6.30 in the evening. Banas has two daughters, the elder daughter Maria is married to a Czech and lives in Prague.  The younger daughter Adela Banasova is the biggest star in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  Although Jozef is presently the most popular author, still he is known more as the father of Adela Banasova.  Adela presents an extremely popular programme in the popular “Fun Radio”, which is listened to every morning in every home by the youth in both the countries… The book was to be launched by the Speaker of the Parliament Pavol Paska, he could not come at 6.30, because he had to be present in the Parliament for conducting a very important debate, which got a little bit extended.  He had already sent a message that he would be half an hour late, and exactly at 7.00 he was there.  Some TV-reporters interviewed me in English.  The atmosphere was very informal, there were some more MPs; Banas’ Slovak and German publishers and a number of Slovak authors were also present there.  The good thing was that people were interacting in an informal manner, holding a glass in their hands; there was no podium, where people could give long speeches.  The Ambasdsador Rajeev Misra read out some extracts in Hindi… After that the Speaker of Parliament spoke a few words of appreciation and finished his speech in less than 5 minutes. And then the guests were talking to each other over snacks and drinks.  There was no guest of honour, no Chief Guest, no 50 speakers, no long speeches.  It was a very relaxed setting,  much to my liking…At the end of the party Pavol Paska took Banas and me aside and extended to us an invitation to meet him in the Parliament next day at 4 p.m… While chatting with me Banas told me that the Habsburger queen Maria Theresia loved the Slovaks and she often spent her summers in the Bratislava Palace, which we visited later.  He also told me that the Slovaks were never allowed to establish their own identity, especially by Czechs and Hungarians, who ruled over them for centuries, even though the Slovaks are the oldest Europeans, and since Slovakia is now establishing her identity as a free nation with a democratic system, the new generation of Slovaks are doing everything in their power to create a positive identity and a respectable status for their country in the comity of nations… In the Parliament we took our place in the press-gallery, because Banas also writes for the Press.  There were very few MPs in the hall.  The debate was being conducted in Slovak language (not in English), Banas told me that it was a serious debate over a case of corruption, but members were cordial to each other, speaking in a relaxed manner, and there was no mud-slinging from any side…The Secretary of the Speaker came and told us that the Speaker would talk to us for 15-20 minutes, but in his Chamber our conversation lasted one hour, and not 20 minutes.  We talked about India, which he had already visited officially, and he told me that he had very sweet memories of our country.  He narrated episodes from his life and also asked me questions about India.  He has an ideal image of India and told me that the whole world is looking to India for its spiritual values…
The same night I visited Banas’ residence, his house is situated adjacent to a hill, which at some time formed the border of Bratislava.  Even now it does.  The only difference is that the village is much more populated now, it is a part of the city, but the original character of the houses and the streets has been preserved.  Banas’ house also maintains this character.  On the ground floor there is a small restaurant, the family lives in the first floor.  His wife Maria was at home, Adela returned just then from Prague.  From her personality she looked every inch a star.  She knows many languages and is intelligent and quick-witted.  She told me that if her papa comes to India in 2013, then she will also come.  Next day we visited a neighbouring city, Pezinok, where the mayor had to inaugurate the first Christmas Fair on that day, and he had requested Banas that he should bring me there as a guest of honour.  This was also a very interesting experience, but this story some other time.
Amrit Mehta       


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