Sensitive glimpses

Lead review

Sensitive glimpses

Reflections:  Figment of the author’s  imagination.

This collection of 100 classic short stories by consummate Bengali storyteller Banaphool offers sensitive glimpses into the daily lives, loves and concerns of ordinary people during early to mid-20th century.

Banaphool masterfully evokes deep emotions with economical, understated language. In The Solution, Niharranjan’s middle class existence is jolted by the birth of Bunchi, a markedly ugly daughter. “Getting her married will be a nightmare,” sympathise his concerned friends. After receiving a letter from his wife, who is visiting her parents with Bunchi, Niharranjan makes a matter-of-fact yet emotionally charged announcement; “Bunchi died yesterday.”

Let it Be is another touching exploration of a father’s love for his daughter. The narrator observes ordinary objects in a room; boxes of colourful beads and ribbons, the tiny bed still covered by a dainty bedspread, a collection of dolls and curios. Their owner herself no longer needs any of these things, which she once collected with love. She has now gone off with her husband to a new home. The sweet pain of memories is all that remains with the father.

Touches of fun and irony layered with deeper ideas enrich these stories. The lovable elderly protagonist of Uncle cannot replace the tattered blankets. With winter approaching, the villagers pool together money for uncle’s new blankets. But Uncle continues to invite the wrath of his wife by buying a sitar instead. The Tailor is rife with irony. A customer offers extra cash for a large order for flags, so that the entire town can greet Gandhiji when he passes through their station. Two years later, the customer returns to pay extra for more flags to greet Mahatma Gandhi. But this time, the order is for black flags. Robbed of all his valuables in The Dead of Night, Purandar goes to the police station, only to find the officer-in-charge wearing his stolen watch. Prophetic of the corruption that continues to dog our society, Purandar curbs his anger and joining his hands in prayer, addresses the crooked official as “Your Honour.” The story, Tuni and the VIPs, takes a dig at the hypocrisy of the rich and powerful. While paying lip service to eradication of poverty and unemployment, they gossip about “whose dog had caught a cold” and “whose blood pressure was fluctuating.”

Banaphool draws our attention to the beauty and poetry in simple, everyday things. In Just Like New, the protagonist tends to the daily trivia of life while looking forward to meeting ‘her’ near the river; his assignation with dusk. In The Star, stars come alive in the way children perceive them. The neem tree stands behind the house rooted in a heap of garbage it is unable to leave. Experts extol its virtues, but while everyone exploits its beneficial properties, nobody takes care of it either. The housewife, so adept at domestic chores, was in the same situation as the tree beside her house.

Several stories deal with the pathetic status of women and the fickleness of marital love. In Second to None, a wife undergoing a difficult childbirth is worried for her husband if she dies. “He’ll get married again in three months,” says her sister, and wins a wager.

Punti, a dark girl with pretty features, is unable to find a husband. Forced to leave her native village in humiliation, Punti returns five years later as a prosperous actress, producing a hired ‘husband’ for the benefit of society.

Arunava Sinha’s translation is capably done and eminently readable. There are a few glitches which could have been ironed out while editing. In Happenstance for example, a woman is jarringly referred to as Ms Usha. But in the early 20th century, Ms was not commonly used. Such minor errors apart, this book is a must-read that will stay with you long after the last page.

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