Harry Potter and the Illegitimate Bengali Precursor

I look at a lot of Harry Potter books on a daily basis. Especially the first book and I can identify the vast majority with a glance as they doom-scroll by. There’s not much that makes me do a double-take, but when @kanto_2_hogwarts sent me the photo below, it made me sit bolt-upright on the couch!

The script is Bengali and the artwork is Thomas Taylor.

Of the 22 “scheduled” languages in India, 9 have authorized translations: Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. Of those, Bengali is published in Bangladesh, Nepali is…was published in Nepal, Urdu was published in Pakistan and the rest are published in India. All of them were first published with Mary Grandpré covers and only Bengali has diverged with a recent Jonny Duddle edition. Sinhala, published in Sri Lanka is the only example of Thomas Taylor art in or near the Indian subcontinent.

All that is to say that the combination of Thomas Taylor art and Bengali script stands out.

Legit or Illegit?

Then the real shocker was the copyright page.

Although it is clear that this is the same translation, published by the same company, Ankur Prakashani, there is this little bombshell:

First published in Bengali: Bangladesh, 2002

Compare that to the Mary Grandpré “first” edition:

First Published in Bengali: Bangladesh, July 2003

This book—same translators, same publisher—preceded the supposed “first edition” by a year!

When I said, “All of them were first published with Mary Grandpré covers”—that was a little lie. All of their first authorized publications were Grandpré; however, there was an earlier unauthorized edition of Nepali published before the authorized edition. I am confident that this is what’s going on here. Ankur Prakashani published their Bengali translation in 2002 before securing the rights to do so legally and replaced the book with a legal edition in 2003, probably doing everything they could to erase the book from existence.

There are a number of reasons that lead me to this conclusion, the first two, I have already covered.

The cover: Although I have never seen official confirmation, it is apparent that Mary Grandpré artwork is a kind of default—most likely it is the artwork that is either included or is the cheapest to license when securing the translation rights. Given the dismal quality of the Ankur Prakashani’s books, I can’t believe that they were springing for any premium options and if they had already done so, why would they go back to the Grandpré art only a year later? It’s also apparent, that although they mimicked the overall Bloomsbury cover design, that it does not conform to the design standards that other Thomas Taylor covers do.

The copyright page: Comparing the 2002 copyright page and the 2003 copyright page, there is an obvious shift:

The 2003 copyright page includes English and follows a very familiar format—one that I am sure is imposed on publishers by J. K. Rowling’s representatives. But more over, both of them claim to be the first Bengali edition. If 2002 were authorized, there would be no reason to deny its existence; however, if it were unauthorized there would be every reason to do so—especially in light of the “April 2003 crack-down” I discuss below.

The Forwards: Both editions have forwards by one of the translators, Mesbahuddin Ahmed. The 2002 forward is considerably longer and talks about the plot, J. K. Rowling, the movie and its reception… the relevant part is this:

J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was first published in 1997. Subsequently there have been countless version of it in different languages and in different countries but a Bengali translation of this classic book for children and adolescents has not been published thus far. That is why Ankur Prakashani has take the initiative to reach Bengali speaking readers…

The original Harry Potter is over two hundred pages long and has been abridged a little in this Bengali translation; however, it keeps the main story intact as much as possible.

—Translation courtesy of Google Translate and edited by Potterglot

Although it starts the same, the 2003 translation was significantly cut—it’s a couple of pages shorter and concludes with this illuminating paragraph:

Although there has been much talk of Harry Potter around the world, this is the first initiative to translate it into the Bengali language. Earlier, an initiative was taken to publish the fake Harry Potter Kolkataye, but it was stopped by law enforcement and J. K. Rowling. After communicating with Rowling’s literary agent for two years, we got permission to translate this book into Bengali. Bangladesh has a bad reputation abroad, publishers here are publishing foreign books without permission. We want to remove this stigma. We want translations of foreign books to be published here with necessary approvals. Also the books of Bangladesh should be legally translated abroad. In this regard, the cooperation of the country’s associate publisher and writers is also desirable.

—Translation courtesy of Google Translate and edited by Potterglot

The 2003 forward doesn’t technically say that rights negotiation commenced in 2001 and were completed in 2003 shortly before the publication of the 2003 edition. However, I believe that was the intent and how any reasonable person would interpret it. If that is true, the 2003 edition was authorized and the 2002 edition could not have been—and that is entirely consistent with 1) the change in cover art, 2) the change in the copyright page and 3) the omission of any acknowledgement in the 2003 copyright or forward of the existence of an earlier edition.

The April 2003 crack-down: There is some more context hinted at by the mention of Harry Potter Kolkataye, “Harry Potter in Calcutta” in the 2003 forward. In April of 2003, “shockwaves hit College Street, Kolkata’s famous book mart when the legal notices first arrived from Akash Chittranshi & Associates, the Delhi-based lawfirm hired by Rowling, Warner and Co some months ago.”1 Harry Potter Kolkataye, a semi-fake translation, was the most publicized target of the crack-down. In it, Harry Potter comes to Calcutta in the dream of a young fan of the books—kind of an elaborate fan-fic. However, the fact that the books author, Uttam Ghosh, glossed over in his interviews is that the bulk of the book is Harry’s account of the events of Philosopher’s Stone. He must have mistakenly believed that would make him immune to copyright infringement!

However, Harry Potter Kokataye was not the only target—a Calcutta based, unauthorized Bengali translation of Philosopher’s Stone by one Arghya Das (titled either, Harry Potter O Parash Pathar or Harry Potter O Paras Mani depending on the source) was also in the cross hairs and was also successfully suppressed. Both books were bestsellers in West Bengal at the time and at the February, 2003 annual Kolkata Book Fair alone, the former sold some 5,000 copies and the latter, 10,000. One article had this to say:

As the rights to all Bengali versions have been bought by Ankur Prakashani, a publisher from Bangladesh, Kolkata’s publishers are really cut up about it. It was Ankur who alerted Chittranshi and Co to the fakes and, just days before the book fair, put out ads in newspapers warning people not to buy any Bengali Potter books other than theirs (they have not come up with one yet; their proof has just been okayed)2.

The first thing to note is that the statement, “their proof has just been okayed,” supports the conclusion that the (July) 2003 edition is the first authorized edition. The second is the ballsy move by Ankur Prakashani to turn in their colleagues! Whether they were astute enough to recognize early on that Harry Potter was going to be a sea change in copyright enforcement around the world, or whether it was purely a competitive move to crush their competition, it was an audacious tactic no one was expecting, particularly from a company equally guilty of the same crimes in the past.

Two years to negotiate the rights to the translation—that does seem plausible to me. And I could imagine that they jumped the gun and published an edition early, perhaps believing that negotiations would have already been completed. However, I could just as easily believe that negotiations didn’t take that long; that after realizing that the competition was doing so well, that the only chance they’d have would be to go legit. Either way, I think it’s reasonably clear that this 2002 edition was not authorized.

A note about the 2002 ISBN: it’s malformed. 984-464-078-X, which appears on the copyright page has a typo somewhere in the last 4 digits because the final check digit is incorrect. 984 is correct—that is assigned to Bangladesh; 464 is correct—that is registered to Ankur Prakashani. However, if 078 were correct, the last digit would be 4. So either they calculated the check-digit incorrectly, or one of the digits of 078-X was typo. In and of itself, this is not evidence for or against the legitimacy of the book. Many—probably most—unauthorized books have legitimate ISBNs and ISBNs get messed up all the time on legitimate publications. It’s not even the only one that Ankur Prakashani messed up—the ISBN on their Goblet of Fire is also malformed. Assuming it’s the check digit that is wrong—and there’s not real basis for that assumption; it’s just the easiest thing to correct—the ISBN-13 would be: 978-984-464-078-8.

A New Macroedition?

The last remaining question regards the text itself. Does it constitute a new macroedition? And the answer is a unqualified “Yes!” There’s a hint the first forward: “a little abridged”. The Rowling Machine does not approve of “abridged”: the comment is dropped in 2003 and that edition is noticeably longer. Chapter 1 was 9 pages in 2002 and 18 pages in 2003.

One does not need to look farther than the first paragraph to realize how much the texts have been revised. The line-by-line text is appended below, but here are just the translations to give you an idea of the difference. (“That Boy”? Yes, that is apparently what they titled the chapter!)


That Boy

The Dursleys of house number four Private Drive prided themselves on being very normal people. They never involved themselves with strange or mysterious events. They seemed meaningless to them. Dursley was the director of an organization. He was tall, fat. He had no neck. He had a huge mustache. His wife was light-skinned. But the woman’s hair was brown. Her neck was twice that of her husband. The Dursley couple had everything they needed in life. But one of their secrets was the story of the Potters. They were always on the sidelines so that no one would know this secret. If someone finds out about the Potters, they will not be able to accept it in any way. Mrs. Potter was Mrs. Dursley’s sister; but they have not met for a long time. Mrs. Dursley pretended she had no sister. Because his sister and sister’s chaste husband had nothing in common with him. The Dursleys were always worried that someone would find out about the Potters. The Dursleys knew that the Potters had a young son. Although they never saw that boy.


That Boy

The name of the place is Privet Drive. House number four. Dursley couple lives there. The couple boast that they are very normal people. They do not believe in any miracles or ghosts. They are meaningless to them. Mr. Dursley is the director of a drill company called Grunings. He looks quite tall and fat. His great pride. But he has no neck. On the other hand, his wife Mrs. Dursley is a little lighter. Brown hair. Her neck is unusually long. It is very useful for her. She bends her long neck and searches the garden. Spying on neighbors to find out who is doing what. The only son of the Dursley couple. Name is Dudley. They say- such a boy is one in a thousand.

I resisted the temptation to smooth out the Google translations very much—the telegraphic style of 2003 especially reads strangely in English but I think that has more to do with how punctuation is used in Bengali. I imagine both are relatively natural to native speakers! Although the first paragraph of 2003 is shorter than 2002, you’ll note that it covers far less ground. The first paragraph of 2002 roughly paraphrases the first three paragraphs of the original English, but 2003 is a much closer translation of the first two paragraphs of the original English. This certainly qualifies as a new macroedition.

I’m torn whether the discovery of this edition is a delightful surprise or a heinous betrayal! I love the fact that we have uncovered this previously obscured bit of history—I’m sure Ankur Prakashani have done everything they can to cover up the books existence! However, it is definitely a book I want to own and it is one that will be even harder to find than unauthorized editions usually are.

Title: হ্যারি পটার এন্ড দি ফিলসফারস স্টোন
Transliteration: hyāri paṭāra ēnḍa di philasaphārasa sṭōna
ISBN: 984-464-078-X
Published: 2002

Paragraph One: Line-By-Line

O: Original
Tl: Transliteration
Tr: Translation


1.Oসেই ছেলেটি
Tlsē’i chēlēṭi
TrThat Boy
2.Oপ্রাইভেট ড্রাইভ সড়কের চার নম্বর বাড়ির ডার্সলে দম্পতি নিজেদের সম্পর্কে গর্ব ছিল যে তারা অত্যন্ত স্বাভাবিক মানুষ ।
Tlprā’ibhēṭa ḍrā’ibha saṛakēra cāra nambara bāṛira ḍārsalē dampati nijēdēra samparkē garba chila yē tārā atyanta sbābhābika mānuṣa.
TrThe Dursleys of house number four Private Drive prided themselves on being very normal people.
3.Oতাঁরা নিজেদেরকে আজগুবি অথবা রহস্যজনক ঘটনার সাথে কখনো জড়াতেন না ।
Tltāmrā nijēdērakē ājagubi athabā rahasyajanaka ghaṭanāra sāthē kakhanō jaṛātēna nā.
TrThey never involved themselves with strange or mysterious events.
4.Oএগুলো তাদের নিকট অর্থহীন মনে হতো ।
Tlēgulō tādēra nikaṭa arthahīna manē hatō.
TrThey seemed meaningless to them.
5.Oডার্সলে ছিলেন একটি প্রতিষ্ঠানের পরিচালক ।
Tlḍārsalē chilēna ēkaṭi pratiṣṭhānēra paricālaka.
TrDursley was the director of an organization.
6.Oতিনি ছিলেন লম্বা, মোটা ।
Tltini chilēna lambā, mōṭā.
TrHe was tall, fat.
7.Oতাঁর ঘাড় ছিল না বললেই চলে ।
Tltāmra ghāṛa chila nā balalē’i calē.
TrHe had no neck.
8.Oতাঁর বিশাল সাইজের গোঁফ ছিল ।
Tltāmra biśāla sā’ijēra gōmpha chila.
TrHe had a huge mustache.
9.Oতাঁর স্ত্রী ছিলেন হালকা-পাতলা ।
Tltāmra strī chilēna hālakā-pātalā.
TrHis wife was light-skinned.
10.Oতবে মহিলার চুল ছিল বাদামি ।
Tltabē mahilāra cula chila bādāmi.
TrBut the woman’s hair was brown.
11.Oতাঁর ঘাড় ছিল স্বামীর দ্বিগুণ ।
Tltāmra ghāṛa chila sbāmīra dbiguṇa.
TrHer neck was twice that of her husband.
12.Oজীবনে যা যা প্রয়োজন তার সবই ডার্সলে দম্পতির ছিল ।
Tljībanē yā yā praẏōjana tāra saba’i ḍārsalē dampatira chila.
TrThe Dursley couple had everything they needed in life.
13.Oতবে তাদের একটি গোপনীয় বিষয় ছিল পটারদের কাহিনী ।
Tltabē tādēra ēkaṭi gōpanīẏa biṣaẏa chila paṭāradēra kāhinī.
TrBut one of their secrets was the story of the Potters.
14.Oএই গোপনীয় বিষয় পাছে কেউ জেনে যায় সে জন্য তাঁরা সব সময় তটস্থ থাকতেন ।
Tlē’i gōpanīẏa biṣaẏa pāchē kē’u jēnē yāẏa sē jan’ya tāmrā saba samaẏa taṭastha thākatēna.
TrThey were always on the sidelines so that no one would know this secret.
15.Oপটারদের কথা কেউ যদি জেনে ফেলে এটা তাঁরা কোনভাবে মেনে নিতে পারবেন না ।
Tlpaṭāradēra kathā kē’u yadi jēnē phēlē ēṭā tāmrā kōnabhābē mēnē nitē pārabēna nā.
TrIf someone finds out about the Potters, they will not be able to accept it in any way.
16.Oমিসেস পটার ছিলেন মিসেস ডার্সলের বোন; কিন্তু দীর্ঘদিন তাদের মধ্যে দেখা-সাক্ষাৎ নেই ।
Tlmisēsa paṭāra chilēna misēsa ḍārsalēra bōna; kintu dīrghadina tādēra madhyē dēkhā-sākṣāṯ nē’i.
TrMrs. Potter was Mrs. Dursley’s sister; but they have not met for a long time.
17.Oমিসেস ডার্সলে এমন ভান করতেন যেন তাঁর কোন বোন নেই ।
Tlmisēsa ḍārsalē ēmana bhāna karatēna yēna tāmra kōna bōna nē’i.
TrMrs. Dursley pretended she had no sister.
18.Oকারণ তার সাথে তাঁর বোন এবং বোনের নিষ্কর্মা স্বামীর কোন মিল ছিল না ।
Tlkāraṇa tāra sāthē tāmra bōna ēbaṁ bōnēra niṣkarmā sbāmīra kōna mila chila nā.
TrBecause his sister and sister’s chaste husband had nothing in common with him.
19.Oডার্সলে দম্পতি সবসময় শঙ্কিত থাকতেন পাছে কেউ পটারদের কথা জেনে যায় ।
Tlḍārsalē dampati sabasamaẏa śaṅkita thākatēna pāchē kē’u paṭāradēra kathā jēnē yāẏa.
TrThe Dursleys were always worried that someone would find out about the Potters.
20.Oডার্সলে দম্পতি জানতেন যে পটারদের একটি ছোট ছেলে আছে ।
Tlḍārsalē dampati jānatēna yē paṭāradēra ēkaṭi chōṭa chēlē āchē.
TrThe Dursleys knew that the Potters had a young son.
21.Oযদিও সে ছেলেকে তারা কখনও দেখেননি ।
Tlyadi’ō sē chēlēkē tārā kakhana’ō dēkhēnani.
TrAlthough they never saw that boy.


1.Oসেই ছেলেটি
Tlsē’i chēlēṭi
TrThat Boy
2.Oজায়গার নাম প্রিভেট ড্রাইভ ।
Tljāẏagāra nāma pribhēṭa ḍrā’ibha.
TrThe name of the place is Privet Drive.
3.Oবাড়ি নম্বর চার ।
Tlbāṛi nambara cāra.
TrHouse number four.
4.Oসেখানে বসবাস করেন ডার্সলি দম্পতি ।
Tlsēkhānē basabāsa karēna ḍārsali dampati.
TrDursley couple lives there.
5.Oএ দম্পতি গর্ব করে বলেন যে তাঁরা খুবই স্বাভাবিক মানুষ ।
Tlē dampati garba karē balēna yē tāmrā khuba’i sbābhābika mānuṣa.
TrThe couple boast that they are very normal people.
6.Oতাঁরা কোনো অলৌকিক ঘটনা বা ভূত-প্রেত জাতীয় কিছুতে বিশ্বাস করেন না ।
Tltāmrā kōnō alaukika ghaṭanā bā bhūta-prēta jātīẏa kichutē biśbāsa karēna nā.
TrThey do not believe in any miracles or ghosts.
7.Oএগুলো তাদের কাছে অর্থহীন ।
Tlēgulō tādēra kāchē arthahīna.
TrThey are meaningless to them.
8.Oমি. ডার্সলি হলেন গ্রুনিংস নামের একটি ড্রিল কোম্পানির পরিচালক ।
Tlmi. ḍārsali halēna gruninsa nāmēra ēkaṭi ḍrila kōmpānira paricālaka.
TrMr. The Dursleys are the director of a drill company called Grunings.
9.Oতিনি দেখতে বেশ লম্বা এবং মোটা ।
Tltini dēkhatē bēśa lambā ēbaṁ mōṭā.
TrHe looks quite tall and fat.
10.Oতাঁর বিশাল গৌফ ।
Tltāmra biśāla gaupha.
TrHis great pride.
11.Oতবে তাঁর ঘাড় নেই বললেই চলে ।
Tltabē tāmra ghāṛa nē’i balalē’i calē.
TrBut he has no neck.
12.Oঅপরদিকে তাঁর স্ত্রী মিসেস ডার্সলি একটু হালকা-পাতলা ।
Tlaparadikē tāmra strī misēsa ḍārsali ēkaṭu hālakā-pātalā.
TrOn the other hand, his wife Mrs. Dursley is a little lighter.
13.Oচুল বাদামি ।
Tlcula bādāmi.
TrBrown hair.
14.Oতাঁর ঘাড়টা অস্বাভাবিক লম্বা ।
Tltāmra ghāṛaṭā asbābhābika lambā.
TrHer neck is unusually long.
15.Oএটি তার খুব কাজে লাগে ।
Tlēṭi tāra khuba kājē lāgē.
TrIt is very useful for her.
16.Oতিনি লম্বা ঘাড় বাঁকিয়ে বাগানের খৌঁজ-খবর করেন ।
Tltini lambā ghāṛa bāmkiẏē bāgānēra khaumja-khabara karēna.
TrShe bends her long neck and searches the garden.
17.Oপাড়া প্রতিবেশীরা কে কী করছে তা জানতে গোয়েন্দাগিরি করেন ।
Tlpāṛā pratibēśīrā kē kī karachē tā jānatē gōẏēndāgiri karēna.
TrSpying on neighbors to find out who is doing what.
18.Oডার্সলি দম্পতির একমাত্র ছেলে ।
Tlḍārsali dampatira ēkamātra chēlē.
TrThe only son of the Dursley couple.
19.Oনাম ডাডলি ।
Tlnāma ḍāḍali.
TrName is Dudley.
20.Oতাঁরা বলেন- এমন ছেলে হাজারে একটা মেলে ।
Tltāmrā balēna- ēmana chēlē hājārē ēkaṭā mēlē.
TrThey say- such a boy is one in a thousand.


  1. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/bollywood/news/The-big-business-of-lifting-ideas/articleshow/46701948.cms ↩︎
  2. https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/society-and-the-arts/books/story/20030428-bengali-writers-play-snitch-game-as-bootleg-versions-of-harry-potter-rule-the-stalls-792973-2003-04-27 ↩︎

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1 response

  1. M says:

    The world will be proud of such a considerable investigation!
    Diving into this historical story and learning from each line is so exciting!


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