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Of Women, Outcastes, Peasants, and Rebels

Of Women, Outcastes, Peasants, and Rebels: A Selection of Bengali Short Stories

Copyright Date: 1990
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    Of Women, Outcastes, Peasants, and Rebels
    Book Description:

    Until now the large body of socially focused Bengali literature has remained little known to Western readers. This collection includes some of the finest examples of Bengali short stories-stories that reflect the turmoil of a changing society traditionally characterized by rigid hierarchical structures of privilege and class differentiation. Written over a span of roughly ninety years from the early 1890s to the late 1970s, the twenty stories in this collection represent the work of five authors. Their characters, drawn from widely varying social groups, often find themselves caught up in tumultuous political and social upheaval.The reader encounters Rabindranath Thakur's extraordinarily spirited and bold heroines; Manik Bandyopadhyay's peasants, laborers, fisherfolk, and outcastes; and Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay's rural underclass of snake-charmers, corpse-handlers, stick-wielders, potters, witches, andVaishnavaminstrels. Mahasweta Devi gives voice to the semi-landless tribals and untouchables effectively denied the rights guaranteed them by the Constitution; Hasan Azizul Huq depicts the plight of the impoverished of Bangladesh.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90945-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-50)

    Bengali literary prose emerged in its contemporary form in the early nineteenth century. Around the middle of the century, Iswarchandra Vidyasagar and Bankimchandra Chatterjee among others perfected the idiom of modern secular writing, Bengali literature, however, has a much longer history, beginning with a lyrical tradition many centuries old. Historians have traced the origins of two of the streams of this tradition to the Buddhist scholarly works and hymns (ckaryagiti) written in the tenth century by the Bengaliackaryas,who formed the bridge from eastern India to Tibet, and to the Brahmanic Sanskrit literature, which reached its peak in Bengal...

  5. The Living and the Dead
    (pp. 51-61)
    Rabindranath Thakur

    The young widow Kadambini had stayed on in the extended family of Sharadashankar-babu, her husband’s elder brother, who was a small landlord in Ranihat village. In her own family hardly anyone was left to go back to. Here too she was, strictly speaking, without a family, with her husband dead and no child of her own. But she was bound to this little child, the son of her brother-in-law. The child’s mother was sick for a long time after he was born, and the widowed Kadambini took care of him. She came to love the baby, her heart almost aching...

  6. The Punishment
    (pp. 62-71)
    Rabindranath Thakur

    Dukfairam Rui and Chhidam Rui were brothers. Both worked as hired hands to earn their bare living. On that morning, as they were preparing to leave for work, carrying their sickles, their wives were quarreling and shouting at each other. The entire neighborhood had gotten used to it, as if it were part of the variety of usual noises and sounds that filled their natural environment. Whenever those two voices were heard rising and shrill, the neighbors’ response was no more than resigned mutterings of “there they go again!” It was something expected and habitual, not at all exceptional. Nobody...

  7. The Girl in Between
    (pp. 72-83)
    Rabindranath Thakur

    In Nibarari’s way of life, there was no piace for anything irregular. Absolutely no role for the unusual, the extraordinary. No room for poetry—tragic, romantic, or any other kind. It never occurred to him that something like poetry may have a place somewhere in life. He lived his thoroughly habitual life without thinking about it, like the way in which one slips one’s feet into one’s well-worn sandals. He lived his days without even blundering into anything involving wonder or excitement, without ever reflecting on any aspect of his life.

    Each morning, he sat by the front door of...

  8. Haimanti
    (pp. 84-95)
    Rabindranath Thakur

    The bride’s father would have gladly waited some more time, but the groom’s father did not want to, The girl’s age already exceeded the appropriate prepubescerit range, and further delay would have made it hard to cover that up by any means, nice or not-so-nice. Although the girl’s age was over what could strictly be considered appropriate, the relative attractiveness of the dowry still weighed somewhat heavier. Hence the wedding was rushed a bit.

    I was the bridegroom. It was therefore considered unnecessary to ask for my opinion and give it any thought. I had been dutifully doing what was...

  9. Letter from a Wife
    (pp. 96-109)
    Rabindranath Thakur

    This day completes nearly fifteen years of our marriage. I have never written to you before today. AH this time that I was with you, you have heard many words from me, and I have heard many from you. There was never the gap that is necessary for one to write a letter to someone close.

    I am now at the holy place by the Bay of Bengal, on pilgrimage; and you are at work in your office. You have grown attached to Calcutta the way snails are attached to their shells. It has simply adhered to your body and...

  10. The Witch
    (pp. 110-123)
    Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay

    Nobody can recall any more who came up with the name and on what occasion. Its history lies buried in the depths of shared memory; but the name itself is used to this day, and its association of terror and damnation is still overpowering.The field of killer thirst!If you stand by its edge on this side and look across the scorched land, with no shadow, no water, stretched to the horizon, the trees of the villages beyond some faint smears along the rim of the hazy sky, your mind becomes strangely disoriented. You fed detached, almost philosophical, as...

  11. Variation on “The Witch”: An Excerpt
    (pp. 124-127)
    Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay

    In our village, near the east end of our house there was a large pond with tall palm trees around it. A 45-degree line from the pond toward the northeast would be pointing to the hut of Swarna the witch, Shawnadain,as the folks said. It was at the very edge of the village, in a large barren field that lay between two clusters of huts—one the fishermen’s and the other the Bauri untouchables’. A large banyan tree stood in the field, and under that tree was the one-room hut of Swarna. There were no more huts after...

  12. The Unlucky Woman
    (pp. 128-134)
    Manik Bandyopadhyay

    Kusum felt harried all the time, running her household with a small baby. She found even the baby difficult to manage; he was awake exactly when she had the most housework to do and, unlike her neighbor Susila’s baby, would not play by himself if left for a minute in his bed of quilted rag, She had to carry him when doing the work because he would start crying as soon as she put him down. Her family was small, just her husband Tarak and the baby. But however small, it still involved running a household; every little task must...

  13. A Tale of These Days
    (pp. 135-147)
    Manik Bandyopadhyay

    The sun had climbed up the sky of Mansukia village and was right overhead at the time. Rampada was about to sit down to a lunch of rice andsholfish with chilies that he had cooked. The straw on the roof over the mud walls was rotted. Only the walls and the roof remained; nobody had taken these away in the six months when the hut had been abandoned. Everything else was gone, the bamboo fence, the poles to prop the slope of the thatched roof, the door planks, the bamboo shelf for storage—even the blackened, old earthen...

  14. The Old Woman
    (pp. 148-151)
    Manik Bandyopadhyay

    It is a very important day for the old woman. It is the wedding day of her eldest great-grandson, her son’s son’s son, not a small triumph for her. The home, full of family and relatives, is humming with the busy activities one expects on a wedding day. She is not doing anything, and they are busily going about without paying much attention to her, the way the busy activities in a king’s palace go about without involving the king. That is how it seems to her.

    She thinks she is present, directly or indirectly, in everything that is going...

  15. A Female Problem at a Low Level
    (pp. 152-157)
    Manik Bandyopadhyay

    The girl’s name is Durga. She is the daughter of the factory mechanic Noton. Noton has another daughter, an infant that has started crawling on the dirty, damp porch of his hut, The infant girl crawling on the porch sometimes falls off, onto the still more damp yard, and screams, Noton’s love for his children can be measured and understood only in relation to life in the slum. Like the usual parental love in the slum, it is weak in some ways and strong in other ways, sort of blunt and practical, hard and soft at the same time. Parental...

  16. Paddy Seeds
    (pp. 158-184)
    Mahasweta Devi

    To the north of Kuruda and Hesadi, the twin villages of outcastes and tribals, the bare soil, sunbaked and bone-dry, becomes wavy. No grass grows there even after the rains. A few solitary cactuses stand like cobras with raised hoods. In the middle of this vast, undulating, burned-out stretch is a little green patch, hull shaped, hardly an acre in size. It leaps into the range of vision only when one stands atop one of the high crests of the wavy brown landscape. There is something almost spectral about that flourish of lush green.

    Even more unexpected, apparition-like, is the...

  17. Dhowli
    (pp. 185-205)
    Mahasweta Devi

    The bus starts from Ranch! city in early afternoon and reaches Tahad around eight in the evening. The bus stop is in front of the grocery shop, also the only tea shop, both run by Parashnath, next to the post office. Theshopcum-teastall,the post office, and the bus stop form the downtown for the cluster of villages. The passengers get off here and walk the rest of their way home. This is where the unpaved wide road ends; so also ends the outside world with which Tahad is connected by this once-a-day rickety bus run by the Rohatgi company....

  18. The Funeral Wailer
    (pp. 206-228)
    Mahasweta Devi

    Sanichari, an old Ganju woman,* had spent her life in endless poverty, like most of the other Ganju and Dusad villagers in Tahad. Her mother-inlaw used to say that her life was bound to be full of misfortune because she was born on a Saturday. When she was a young wife, she could not answer because she was not supposed to. One of her regrets is that she had not managed to answer before her mother-in-law was dead. Too late now. Still, she sometimes mutters the answer to herself, “You were born on a Monday. Has your life been more...

  19. Strange Children
    (pp. 229-241)
    Mahasweta Devi

    The place is called Lohri. It is located at the meeting point of three districts of Bihar—Ranchi, Sarguja, and Palamau—although officially it is part of Ranchi. It does not look like any other area in the region, not like any earthly place at all. The entire place looks like a burnt out valley; it looks as if the temperature is extremely high just beneath the surface. The trees are all stunted, the riverbed dry like a cremation ground, the villages shrouded in dust and smoky heat. The soil has a strange, dark copper color. Even in this region...

  20. The Witch-Hunt
    (pp. 242-271)
    Mahasweta Devi

    Chaitra, the last month of the past year, brought no spring rain at all. It was now two months into the summer heat of the new year, two endlessly burning months. Finally the month of Asarh came, but not heavy with rainbearing clouds as in other years. Clouds kept drifting in and out without bringing any rain at all.

    The Oraon woman named Budhni was almost philosophically pessimistic. She sounded satisfied in her grim conviction when saying that it was going to be much worse than a drought; it was going to turn into a famine.

    The women were trying...

  21. Giribala
    (pp. 272-289)
    Mahasweta Devi

    Giribala was born in a village called Talsana, in the Kandi subdivision of Murshidabad district. Nobody ever imagined that she could think on her own, let alone act on her own thought. This Giribala, like so many others, was neither beautiful nor ugly, just an average-looking girl. But she had lovely eyes, eyes that somehow made her appearance striking.

    In their caste, it was still customary to pay a bride-price. Aulchand gave Giri’s father eighty rupees and a heifer before he married her. Giri’s father, in turn, gave his daughter four tolas of silver, pots and pans, sleeping mats, and...

  22. The Daughter and the Oleander
    (pp. 290-298)
    Hasan Azizul Huq

    It is a cruel winter night, with a sheet of frost descending from the clear sky. The moon is a lifeless cold bloom above the fronds of the coconut tree. In the slight wind, a large banana leaf turns slowly, heavily, showing its topside and its underside, back and forth.

    Further away, at the crossing of the road that goes to the marketplace, the tin roof of Rahat Khan’s house is glittering with frost in the moonlight.

    A fox puts its forepaws up on the porch of the hut of Kami’s mother and howls. Then, ail at once, a chorus...

  23. In Search of Happiness
    (pp. 299-303)
    Hasan Azizul Hug

    The cool shadow is calling me! Kumkum wonders, leaning over in her bed, the pillow under her chest, looking out the window at the paved side of the well under the grapefruit tree. She hears the” shrill cry of the hawk in the sky announcing its noontime domain. A dirty crow comes in the paved area by the wet! in the shade of the citrus tree to bathe in the little pool of dirty water. Kumkum watches it bathe happily, wet its throat and the wings, and fly to a branch to comb its head with its claw, totally contented....

  24. Through Death and Life
    (pp. 304-321)
    Hasan Azizul Huq

    There was a sudden wind in the sky.

    Karam Ali looked up and saw the gray clouds silently coming up the horizon, like a herd of buffaloes.

    He called his son, “The rain is coming! Hurry up, bap jan” Then he walked quickly into the cowshed and stood for a minute watching the two animals. The white bullock’s tail twitched restlessly. The lame old cow lay on the layer of straw in the far corner, her huge dark eyes gazing into the darkness. The dog got up from the pile of cinder near the porch, shook its body, and raised...

  25. A Day In Bhushan’s Life
    (pp. 322-330)
    Hasan Azizul Huq

    It was an afternoon in April. Bhushan had walked home in the hot sun a little while ago, but he had to come out again shortly after to go to the market. He kept watching the sky impatiently. The sun was still burning hot—the shadows of the tall trees on the west side of the canal still had not reached the water.

    But he could not wait any longer for the sun to mellow. He had to leave in his small dugout, and he was trying to ply it close to the west bank of the canal so as...