On not being able to love- a review of Nabarun Bhattacharya’s “Auto”


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.

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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.   

The Dogs Declared War


There is no place for street dogs in a modern city. One must collect them and systematically eliminate them without hurting public sentiments. One may propose methods used in the holocaust, or simple poisoning in the night. But then, what happens when the dogs, utterly desperate, choose to leave the city on their own accord? This short wonder of a novella is far superior and more mature than Nabarun’s more popular works (like Kangal Malsat) in terms of subtlety and depiction of human brutality.

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Cover of the First Edition

It questions the much promoted slogan ‘Safe drive. Save life.’ Whose life to be exact? The crows, the dogs and cats — are they ever a part of the design of the human society? Once the author said in an interview, ‘Like I have the right to live in the city, a mosquito also has a right to bite me.’ From this non-anthropological view, the story forms its basic outline. Some critics compare the dogs with Naxalites whom the state chased and picked up like dogs and killed brutally. But I think, the idea is broader and scarier when applied to the helpless classes of the society.

Lubdhak is the Bengali name of the constellation Canis Major or The Greater Dog. In the novella, it acts as a compass for the helpless dogs. They had to leave the city. Lyka and other famous characters also appear as shadowy ghosts. They talk, they show ways, they predict that an asteroid is en route to destroy the city Kolkata like many such events in the past. That’s why the dogs must leave.

The sarcastic narrative, at times, accompanied by short poems, often goes quite experimental presenting a chapter in form of a bullet points and counterpoints. Sometimes, the narrative shifts from the third person to first person narratives of the animals. The continuously shifting voices give the novella a sense of urgency, a collective cry.

Like Khelna Nagar (Toy City), this one also is a dystopian work and can be termed as one of the major literary achievement in Bengali literature.

Before the Hanging


In continuation of the series “To Talk About Bangla Books”, this is the second one.

Jagari (The Vigil) by Satinath Bhaduri

Today, I shall talk about a book that has introduced me to modernist Bangla novels. First published in 1946, it’s a commendable effort from the writer to write a difficult novel, such as this, in breathless stream of consciousness narrative.

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The complete book is divided into four parts and spans only a few hours. The family (father, mother and two brothers, Nilu and Bilu) was engaged in Indian politics with the Congress National Party i.e. Gandhiji’s Quit India Movement. For this reason Bilu and his parents were arrested. Bilu was sentenced to death for sabotaging government assets. Nilu became the witness against his elder brother, thus betraying his family, solely for his own political ideals.

Hence just few hours before the hanging, each character’s thought process is depicted with scientific precession  and thus we have four chapters for four characters.

Name of the chapters:
1. Cell for Death-sentenced- Bilu.
2. First Division Cell- Father
3. Women’s Cell- Mother
4. Jail Gate- Nilu

The fractured narrative, trailing off to old memories and coming back to current state several times within even a small paragraph has reminded me of Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. But, I don’t want to compare the quality or techniques of these two books, for both are different and have their unique essences (Actually, I have found this one a lot more enjoyable and relatable, perhaps because it is written in my mother tongue).

Lastly, I want to say this that internal monologue in Bengali seemed natural to me than in English and without this book, I would never have known that Bengali, at times can sound so sweet and ear-pleasing upon employing stream of consciousness narrative.

To give you a small glimpse of the narrative, I am translating a part from chapter 3.

Everyone is sitting around me silently in the dark ─now if even a needle drops, the sound can be heard. Only the hand-fan is making a continuous humming… A beetle is flying. Sounding whirr, whirr…! It drops down with a ‘thak’. It rises again, flies, again bangs onto something and drops. Haven’t flown till now, not yet; still not yet. Now when it’ll fly, I’ll count one, two, three till ten. If it drops down before I reach ten, every way of saving Bilu will become impossible. And if I can complete my count before the insect drops, then I am sure, God will somehow save my Bilu. Have to count quickly; as quickly as possible for me. It flies now ─one, two, three, four, five, six, seven─ damn! It has dropped down. What have you done, O Almighty!

How Ungreen Had My Valley Become!


This is the first installment of my newly-thought-up series called “To Talk About Bangla Books.” Given the fact that Bangla has this huge collection of good literary stuff and I thought why not talk about them in my blog and they just might pique interests of readers and more fortunately, translators!

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The Tale of the Hasuli Turn by Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay

This is the first novel by Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay I read. Set in 1941, the novel explores the sub-tale (upokatha in Bengali. Interesting to note that the author chooses to call this a sub-tale and not a tale/story, in tandem with the civilized world’s disinterest with the “other world”). The story starts with the villagers’ or residents’ worry about a strange particularly loud whistling in the forest every night. Some thought it must be the restless spirit of “Babathakur” (Godfather) who died years ago before setting the place for Kahars (those people were ‘classified’ as Kahar) to live. They were really scared and thinking up ways of sacrifices and worships to please him. Their leader Banowari was in support of this. Things got complicated when Karali, the youth with modern outlook discovered that it was a king cobra and killed it. Later all other condemned him of this sinister act because that snake was Babthakur’s ride (bahan). Say it because of superstition or tradition, but from then on there was continuous tussle between the new and the old, between faith and logic, between unquestioned submission to the known process and the finding out new dangerous ways. And this has set the core tumult in the novel.

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Backcover. Source: Amazon.in

A constant politics is being played at every conversation, at every action, and how natural and fundamental they are in the core rural life where a person’s very existence depends on small decisions he takes in his daily life, can be easily felt in the author’s expert observations and insightful depiction of human mind. The relationship equations of friendships and love are more fundamental to human nature in here and above the normal sense applied to the civilized world.

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Original Bangla Edition

The language is diversely rich with regional variations of Bangla, and most of the times, the narrative is closely linked with the dialogues and thoughts of the characters. It has been repeatedly emphasized in the novel that the war and hunger of outside world will never affect the reclusive bank of Kopai river (shaped like a scythe, hasuli in Bangla. Pretty much reminded me of Marquez’s Macondo). When at the end, during WW2, the sinister military planes flew over their sky and devoured all the trees in which they slowly had constructed their interdependent habitat, when all his (Banowari’s) people betrayed him by leaving their farmlands and joining the factory, one can see how the outside can affect (or ruin) an almost hidden patch of the forest-land in rural Bengal. The influence of the outsider (Karali, slowly became an outsider to the people) is one of the themes in the book. Coetzee’s works e.g. ‘Age of Iron’, ‘Disgrace’ explicitly deal with this theme. The comparision is far-fetched but worth mentioning.

I can safely conclude that this is a hugely original work and it takes some time to get over the dark, mysterious, mesmerizing world of the bend of Kopai river.

This has a translation available, published by Columbia University Press and can be found here .