A real-time fiction

A real-time fiction

Boston Brahmin’s Widow
Keron Bhattacharya
Jay Publishers
2015, pp 170, Rs 295

A book filled with observations on human follies and foibles is what struck me on reading Keron Bhattacharya’s Boston Brahmin’s Widow. Bhattacharya is adept at making keen estimation of the various characters who give the novel a life-like quality. Narrated by Kobi, a Bengali writer settled in England, the story intertwines the political situation in West Bengal with the narrator’s personal life, in and out of relationships. Set in England and parts of West Bengal, the book captures the narrator’s journey of life amidst various ups and downs.

The story continuously moves from the present to the past as Kobi recollects his bygone days, the women in his life, his friendships, and life in Kolkata and London. As an observer, Kobi is quite objective — if he comments scathingly on the immorality of his friend, Jon, or that of women like Monami and Jhinook, he does not cut short his own stories of sexual adventures. Each character in the book comes alive with Kobi’s interpretation and commentary of their lifestyle.

Bhattacharya’s book relies heavily on human equations, and the narrator with his connection to the other characters provides the readers with glimpses of the realistic world of relationships. Kobi’s narration takes us through the vast realm of men-women relations, some sanctioned by the society, some not. Kobi’s marriage to Alison, an English woman, draws much contempt of his family circle in Kolkata and eventually leads to a divorce. The great love and spark in their relationship fade away under the weight of the friction between the East and the West. Similarly, Jon and Joba’s marriage also goes through several ups and downs, causing Joba to leave the country on the pretext of career growth.

In most of the cases, tensions in marriages are connected to extra-marital relationships. Notwithstanding his political status, Jon continues his sexual flings, leaving his wife no other choice than to leave the scene. Kobi takes us through the tumultuous relationship of another couple, Ajit and Jhinook — albeit in a humorous vein — of Jhinook’s amorous relationships and Ajit’s helplessness. Bhattacharya deals with pre-marital relationships in similar realistic manner. Kobi’s live-in relationship with Alison prior to their marriage and before that with Christiina is disapproved by the society. Bhattacharya portrays an England of the past when live-in relationships and pre-marital sex were frowned upon.

Boston Brahmin’s Widow is remarkable in its portrayal of realistic characters, more so of the women. In his delineation of the Indian as well as the English women, Bhattacharya has been able to create real life characters with their follies and foibles. Kobi’s initial comment on Monami as “pretty in a film-star sense whose make-up is louder than her beauty” or that of the flirtatious Jhinook sets the stage for the readers to make an impression of these women. Kobi’s nostalgic memory of Alison and Christina and his relationships with these two women also bring out the various facets of their characters — both rebellious and ahead of their times. However, Kobi reserves his utmost appreciation for Joba, his friend’s widow, whom he admires and loves, and longs to share the remaining days of his life with.

Joba, however, has her differences of opinion in this matter. Bhattacharya’s book brings out the restrictions imposed by the society on individuals. Whether it is the bygone days in England where Kobi’s relationships underwent a turmoil due to restrictions by the society or the present day in Kolkata where Joba trying to keep up her ‘pure’ image of the widow of the deputy chief minister intact, avoids any possibility of a relationship with Kobi, the story remains the same.

Bhattacharya has also offered his readers his views on caste, racial, and religious differences in marriage. Kobi’s marriage to Alison is not well-accepted by his parents, although they are not openly hostile. However, for Alison’s parents, their supposed superiority in race stands as a major block in accepting Kobi as a prospective son-in-law. Kobi’s anecdotes bring to light several other similar cases — that of Jon’s parents whose marriage was not accepted and ultimately broke due to their racial differences; the shock of Ajit’s family at his marrying the non-Brahmin, Jhinook, and so on.

Interwoven with Kobi’s narration of his relationships and the stories of people known to him, is the political situation of West Bengal. Bhattacharya has beautifully juxtaposed his fiction with the reality of the political feud in West Bengal resulting out of Tata’s Nano project. Readers can place Kobi’s narration vis-à-vis Mamata Banerjee’s protests and fasting, and the assassination of the fictional DCM, and later his wife, go well with the realtime anxiety and political turmoil of the state.

Boston Brahmin’s Widow, with its lucid style, contemporary issues, and interesting narration, goes well with the readers and may trigger in some the interest to look up Bhattacharya’s other fiction and non-fiction works, if not familiar with.

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