Book review by Arnapurna Rath

basanti_my copy

Title: Basanti: Writing the New Woman

Authors: Annada Shankar Ray, Baishnab Charan Das, Harihar Mahapatra, Kalindi Charan Panigrahi, Muralidhar Mahanti, Prativa Devi, Sarala Devi, Sarat Chandra Mukherjee & Suprava Devi : Translated by Himansu S. Mohapatra & Paul St-Pierre

Published by: Oxford University Press, 2019

Basanti: Writing the New Woman is an intense collaborative literary project expressed in the medium of the novel. This almost century old classic has been translated to English this year. The story was originally authored by nine avant-garde members of the Sabuja group: Annada Shankar Ray, Baishnab Charan Das, Harihar Mahapatra, Kalindi Charan Panigrahi, Muralidhar Mahanti, Prativa Devi, Sarala Devi, Sarat Chandra Mukherjee, and Suprava Devi.

The word Sabuja ( green)  is ‘a symbol of youth, novelty freshness and so on’. The group played a metaphorical role in presenting new voices in literature, exploring emerging viewpoints and providing innovativeness in the process of creating a work of fiction.

Basanti has been translated into English (in 2019) by two well-known scholars of literary and translation studies, Himansu S. Mohapatra, Former Professor of English at the Utkal University, India, and Paul St-Pierre, Former Professor at the Department of Linguistics and Translation, Université de Montréal, Canada. The translation carries the original ‘appeal’ made in 1924 for collaborative publication in the landmark journal, Utkala Sahitya. The novel had appeared as serials in Utkala Sahitya between 1924 and 1926. It was first published as a book in 1931.

The translation has succeeded in reinforcing the concept of the ‘new woman’ that was created in the persona of Basanti almost a century ago. Basanti tells the story of a young spirited girl from Cuttack, a bit of a rebel in the conservative social milieu of early twentieth century Odisha. She is accomplished in literature, writes essays for periodicals,

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It is heartening to see Asian writing move out of shadows into the mainstream of literary circles with major publishers, like Penguin, giving a hand to not only greats like Satyajit Ray, Han Suyin and Tagore but also to immigrant writers who crossed the seas to find new life rejecting the violence and angst of political doings in their home countries.

In China, stories of how people swam across the seas and got picked up by boats and emigrated to America in the early and mid-twentieth century were circulated among expats by children of these immigrants; young people who returned to plush new jobs in American multi-nationals in the twenty first century. Now Penguin has classified stories  by some Asian immigrants in the twentieth century as ‘classics’ and is reprinting them. Are these classics as exciting as the first hand stories of immigrants crossing oceans?

Reviewed by Shikhandin

It Takes a Murder

It Takes a Murder
Author: Anu Kumar
Publisher: Hatchette India (2013)
Pages: Paperback, 281
Buy: Available on Amazon and in book stores

 

It seems like years since I first read Anu Kumar’s It Takes a Murder. In reality, it has been only five. A recent news item reminded me of her book — it has been long listed in this year’s MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Image) Words to Screen Awards. This certainly is interesting and goes to show that reposeful books have lives of their own. I remember that I had enjoyed it – its literary, ruminative, lyrical prose. Now, spending the summer in the unlikeliest of places, a city that everybody tries to escape during this season, I thought of browsing through it, re-reading parts with care while glossing over other bits. At the end of it, I found, unsurprisingly, that my original reactions had remained the same, except for a heightened awareness of Kumar’s prose. It felt like walking down a place I had visited before, only noticing more details the second time round. It’s a good feeling, comforting, I must add, when impressions first formed have no cause to change. It reiterates my feeling of the quiet timelessness of Kumar’s It Takes a Murder.

The book involves a murder (obvious from the title) — that of a prominent resident of Brooks Town. But Kumar’s book is no ordinary murder mystery. It is not a literary thriller or a suspense story, but a literary novel – a dark one, with layered characters that demand closer scrutiny, events that need to be re-looked against a larger historical backdrop.

The narrative, innocuous like a sluggish river, is nevertheless punctuated with suspenseful and hold-your-breath passages, even as it deals with the most basic of all human relations – love. The story is narrated in flashback by an unreliable witness, one who keeps the reader guessing about everything, including the true inclination of her heart. She keeps feeding morsels of information in every chapter, just enough to whet the appetite (or should I say to keep the starved from dropping off?), and sometimes a little more. It’s a device that serves more to throw one off the track than reveal the truth. Finally, towards the end of the novel, she reels the reader in and actually confides, laying bare the whole web of intricacies.