Bleak House

Primal Woman, a collection of translated short stories by the late Sunil Gangopadhyay reveals his preoccupation with man’s inhumanity: Open

Sunil Gangopadhyay is a literary institution. An atheist, a radical, co-opted by the establishment. Happily co-opted, it must be said, and by the end a pillar of that establishment—Poet Sunil, as Ginsberg called him in September on Jessore Road, turned president of the Sahitya Akademi. This is literary life (or perhaps just life): at one time, you’re the firebrand, dismissing Tagore as soft and sentimental, founding experimental literary journals, inveighing against the status quo; and then, before you know it, you’re ‘the man’, an abuser of power, rapacious, venal; a toad squatting balefully atop ‘Literature’.

Luckily, whatever your personal foibles and peccadilloes, what is left behind as representative of ‘you’ is the work. And Sunil Gangopadhyay has left behind a lot of work, some of it memorable—‘a considerable prose writer,’ Amit Chaudhuri wrote in eulogy in the The Telegraph, ‘and, at his best, an extraordinary and incomparable poet’—some of it less so. Primal Woman, a collection of short stories compiled and translated by Aruna Chakravarti, is relatively minor work. But the stories, ragged as they are, contain Gangopadhyay’s signature themes: of human nature under stress, of man’s inhumanity to man, as Robert Burns put it.

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