Friday, August 17, 2012

Book Review: There Was No One At The Bus Stop by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay

by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay
Published in Bengali in 1975
Published in English translation by Penguin India, 2010
No. of pages 121
Price Rs 150/-

From the jacket
Love was one thing, sin was another—and although it was difficult to tell love from sin, Trina had learnt to identify some of the signs. 

Set in Calcutta in the 1970s, There Was No One at the Bus Stop is a powerful exploration of adultery and its overwhelming consequences.
Trina, a married woman, impulsively decides one day to stop living a lie and walks out on her husband, daughter and son, in whose lives she no longer plays a role. But will she be able to sever the bonds and join the man she loves in his home? The man, Debashish, is haunted by his wife’s recent suicide and is tormented by the possibility that his young son would rather live away from him.
Through spare prose and searing dialogue, this novel unfolds over twelve hours on a single day. It reveals the often complex reasons that hold human relationships together and the motives that break them apart.
About the author

Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay a Bengali author, has also penned thrillers like Shada Beral, Kalo Beral, and even started a series with detective Shabar Dasgupta in the lead. But the series was not successful, so he discontinued writing it.

PatalGhor, Kaagajer Bou, Nabiganjer Daitto, Hirer Angti, Sadhubabar Lathi, Gosainbaganer Bhoot and Chhayamoy are amongst his novels which have been adapted as films. 

My review

For a probashi Bangali to be able to read, write and talk the mother tongue, is a rare feat; I have been doing so since childhood. But, while my speech is pretty eloquent, I read and write haltingly. Lack of practice. During my summer vacations, when I was seven, my maternal grandparents had painstakingly taught be the Bangla alphabet (বাংলা লিপি) 

Because I read haltingly, I lose patience at times. This topic definitely deserves another blog post, but first, about the story.

I had read Sankar's Chowringhee and The Middle Man, translated from Bengali to English, by Arunava Sinha earlier. When translations go, Sinha's work comes closest to perfection in my opinion. Of course, the writer's intent can be best understood in the original language the story was written, but, Sinha brings the flavours out with utmost ease. 

Originally published in Bengali in 1974, There Was No One At The Bus Stop explores adultery in the world of upper middle class, cosmopolitan Calcutta, an issue that is extremely familiar to the world of the Indian writer in English.

Trina, the novella's self-involved and frustrated female protagonist, has embarked on an adulterous affair with Debashish, her neighbor from across the street. Debashish was someone she used to know as a child and meets again as a married woman with two grown up kids. Deb is shown as a widower whose glamorous but empty-headed wife has committed suicide before the story begins. 

After his wife's death, Deb and his son are growing apart. Trina, frustrated and suffocated in her marriage, feeling useless at being ostracised from the lives of her independent children, debates leaving her family. She lives a life of guilt, always imagining her husband and children looking down upon her, because she was having an affair with Deb.

Very skilfully, Mukhopadhyay depicts the cultured suffocation of the upper middle class in this story, specially through his fevered exploration of the inner and outer worlds of his characters, and the carefully developed sense of boredom that looms large over the lives of his protagonists.

The story is seemingly plot less, without a clear cut sense of resolution. Mukhopadhyay takes us to a familiar, much explored world. This story tells us of the anglicized, upper middle class urban families from the seventies, and skilfully reveals the truth and the farce behind the curtains. You would be frustrated if you are expecting an adventure with some definite end, to this story. If you understand literature, you will be taken on a flight with your imagination and you will be living those 12 hours of a Sunday, with Deb, Trina, Robi, Sachin, Manu, Reba and Phuli.

Happy Reading!!

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