The Tale of German Alchemist Johann Bottger in Bengali Literature of the Nineteenth CenturyDive into Bengali magic realism with Sucheta Dasgupta's translation of Trailokyanath Mukhopadhyay's tales. Explore a world where sorcery meets artistry in captivating narratives.
on Nov 17, 2023
An excerpt from Sucheta Dasgupta's translation of 'Trailokyanath Mukhopadhyay: Tales of Early Magic Realism in Bengali'.
A magician or sorcerer is someone who can do marvels by uttering a spell. I will not argue whether or not magicians exist in this universe in this text. However, the vast majority of persons who travel as one are determined con artists who prey on people in order to earn a fast money.
Many an ascetic and wandering saint, or those claiming to be one, have violated their victims' trust by promising them gold. They approach on a person's doorstep and say, "Bring me your silver - utensils, currency, and jewellery - I have chemicals and a charm that will turn them into gold." The master of the home would hand all of his expensive belongings to the ascetic, who would collect them and go, never to be seen again.
Let me tell you a story to demonstrate how the liar incurs the Almighty's wrath. It is an entirely real story. The protagonist of this story possessed sharp intelligence, brave initiative, and diverse knowledge. Nonetheless, he had said a few lies at the outset of his existence.
As a result, despite having every quality, he was unable to live a prosperous life. Instead, anguish and despair befell him for the rest of his life. He was set free from this fate on the day he died. As a result, one must always remain watchful in order to never tell a lie, do a dishonest deed, or indulge selfish ideas and impulses within one's own psyche.
Everyone wishes to make money, and business is man's endless ambition. There is a long-held notion, nay belief, that it is physically possible to convert lead and mercury into silver and iron and copper into gold.
If a paisa of copper can be converted into gold, the owner makes a ten-dollar profit. That is why people have strived to accomplish the same since ancient times. Many people from other countries had dedicated their lives to this cause in the past. The techniques they used in their effort are collectively known as alchemy, and describing the science's accomplishments and failings is a separate subject. Today, I'm going to avoid talking about it. Today I will tell you the story of Johann Friedrich Bottger. He had studied alchemy in his youth, which indicates he had worked hard to reach the same goal.
Bottger was born 217 years ago in CE 1682 in Prussia, which is now part of the German country. At the age of twelve, he began working as an apprentice in a hospital. He was always interested in chemistry as a child. Chemistry and alchemy were one and the same subject back then. Bottger spent all of his spare time studying alchemy. In layman's terms, this means he tested the reactions of iron, copper, and other metals with various chemicals to determine if they could be transformed to gold. He conducted these tests nonstop for several years. Because of his sharpness and amazing understanding, the hospital's owner began financing his laboratory work. After a few years, Bottger revealed that he had developed a way to prepare gold.
To test the veracity of his claim, a demonstration was organised in the presence of his employer, the hospital's owner. Nobody knows how, but Bottger delivered the intended result to the owner that day. Phoney ascetics are known to use similar ruses to deceive spectators. Place some gold in a pipe and seal the ends with beeswax. To the untrained eye, the pipe seems to be a cane. Following that, they must build a fire, arrange some phoney goods such as sulphur, ghee, and so on in a cauldron placed over it, and then make a large show of stirring these, turning these over and over on the flames with the cane. The heat of the fire melts the wax, and the gold quickly falls into the basin. The sulphur and ghee quickly evaporate, leaving only the yellow metal. The impostor earns the homeowner's trust, who believes, "Yes, this ascetic can indeed produce gold."
I'm not sure if Bottger used this approach to deceive his employer, but he and the witnesses there believed his prank and thought he had discovered a means to transform base metal into gold.
Bottger was devastated. He would not only lose his freedom, but he would also most likely be discovered and hanged. He couldn't tell if he was in for a worse penalty. He fled to Saxony while the king dispatched his horsemen to pursue him. The Saxon king granted him shelter in Dresden along the border. The horsemen pursued him, but he escaped their grasp.
As I write this, Andrew Carnegie is conducting business in the United States of America. He had started out as a kid worker. He is a steel tycoon and a billionaire as an adult. He has donated to charities a total of Rs 75 crore, which is 75,00,00,000 rupees when written down, to various public institutions, dividing the money among them - two crore rupees to a hospital for the care of the poor, a crore for students at an orphanage, another crore to a library, and so on and so forth. Mr Carnegie must have exhausted his personal need for money, for it is a rare individual who is unaffected by the draw and chase of its accumulation.
The desire for money has tormented humans since the beginning of time, and no one can easily overcome it. Two hundred years ago, the kingdoms of Saxony and Poland were ruled by the same monarch. Despite being a ruler of territories, this monarch, too, was in need of money. Funds were needed to put a stop to the revolt that was happening in Poland at the time. When the Saxon king learned that "gold maker" Bottger had fled Prussia and was seeking refuge in his kingdom, he rejoiced - "here's the end of my worries, now I can have gold to my heart's content" - and welcomed him to his capital and put him up in a stately mansion right next to his palace. Ordering his employees and servants to lavish him with costly meals and gifts of valuable raiment, he ensured that he was kept under constant surveillance, with guards following him when he went out and keeping an eye on him when he didn't.
The vigil was kept from the bedroom to the dining hall at all hours of the day and night, and he was never left alone. Bottger wondered if he had actually landed from the frying pan to the fire, seeing as the identical danger that had forced him to flee his nation now threatened to engulf him in his new home.
Meanwhile, the Saxon king's presence in Poland was required to put down the insurrection, and he had to rush there without seeing Bottger secretly, as he had wished. As a result, when he arrived in Poland, he wrote him a letter that may be summarised as "Money has become of essence."
Making gold is thus no longer an option. Please let me know how I may achieve the same result." The monarch told his servants, "Torture the man until he obeys my wish." Bottger was tormented in agonising ways by the king's troops.