Auto was first published, in Bengali, in the 2003 annual issue of “Aajkal” . Then in 2007, it was published as a book along with another novella called Bhogi.
Auto is a story of an auto-driver who wanted to be a footballer. He liked to play in the striker but at times, whenever required he came up and defended his team. His father died suddenly and he had to look for jobs – football could not feed him. First he did stray jobs like working in a garage, driving rickshaw-van, carrying sand sacks. But later he engaged in driving business; the owner of the auto really loved him. Things were looking up for him but his mother too died untimely. Throughout the novella, the protagonist, that is, Chandan kept talking about his mother, accusing her of leaving him so early in his life to struggle in this cruel world, accusing himself that he should have taken more care of her.
But this is not a novella about nostalgic remembrance of the past, rather the immediate cruelty of the present. In the underbelly of Kolkata, the illegal business of country liquor is rather murky. In this business, we meet people who were always scared because no one knew when someone would be miffed and someone would die. While the writer creates these stereotyped images of the dark side of the city, the central event of the story is quite the opposite. A few robbers had attempted to rob a jewellery shop but couldn’t escape after the robbery. The crowd caught and started beating them up. After one point, they die of the beating and yet they kept beating. One of them, who might be working in some garage and missed all the fun, had just joined. He picked an iron rod and brought it down, full force, in between the legs of one of the…
Chandan witnessed all these and fell down on the street. After that incident he became impotent in the bed. His wife, whom he loved the most after the death of his mother, left him and eloped with a young boy. While such an incident certainly evokes pity in the reader, the bigger picture evokes fear. The impatience, the rage that people of this time are harbouring can cripple a society. And this general theme always flows inside this obviously one-man story.
What was more shocking is the final act of cruelty of the protagonist that not only saved him from continuous humiliation but also pushed him to a life of a bottomless void.
In the introduction of the novel, Bhattacharya said,
“Knowing the trap of death is inevitable in this life, humans come to this living world and survive by enlisting their names in the tragedy of killing and getting killed. This is happening because some wishes never get fulfilled. And it worries me all the time. He knows that he is not getting freedom in any way. But he is reluctant to accept this.”
In an interview, Bhattacharya once said he had become a writer because he couldn’t become a footballer. Somewhere in the frustration of Chandan’s not being able to be a footballer, we see glimpses of him too. This novella is essentially a personal cry to find the voice of the modern time. And it has successfully achieved so.
Of all the novels of Nabarun Bhattacharya, this novella will come third in my list of favourites by him after Herbart and Toy City.