Published by: Rupa Publications
Price: 399 INR
“Buddhadeva Bose possessed an independent-mindedness regrettably missing today. He is not only many writers in one; here is a personality in whom we find the trajectories of many writers.”
– Amit Chaudhari
A collection of seven short stories and two one-act plays, Buddhadeva Bose’s ‘The Love Letter and Other Stories’ has all the ingredients of an afternoon well spent. The book has been beautifully written and does not feel like a translated work at all, although the stories take a long time to be absorbed.
Engaging till one reaches the middle, the author’s first short story ‘The Love Letter‘ is that of Birupaksha Ray who receives a letter in a language he cannot decipher. It’s from an old flame of his, which means that his obsession with it knows no bounds. Unlocking the mystery within the words could very well occupy him for the rest of his life. Bose gets the irony settled in in the first few pages and from then on, it is an unending struggle of symbols and meanings.
In Twenty Five Years After- or Before, a one-act play, old lovers meet by chance at an international airport and talk about opportunities missed and chances not taken. The play failed to continue to capture my attention after the first couple of takes, simply because the aspect of chemistry that you’d expect to find between the two in question here was sorely missing. After the setting of the restaurant has been sprinkled on us, what follows is a draggy conversation between two people who used to know each other. Aspects of the affair, betrayal and love are thrown in. Not inadvertently, we see the female protagonist, to be the same kind of tease she used to be, back when the romance was alive and brimming with possibilities.
My favorite of the lot however was Jayjayanti. Here, the author has written some brilliant narrative, describing love in a hesitating manner that very few manage to. The technique by which he manages to unravel Sumitro’s feelings for Tandra has to be applauded. In the form of letters, thoughts and countless scenarios imagined, Sumitro tries every day to get as close to Tandra as he can. Take this excerpt for instance:
‘So long as you were writing, you were thinking of me, you were mine. Can anything be as wonderful as a letter? So personal, confidential, constant. There’s nobody besides the one I am writing to, nothing else, whether it is for half an hour or ten minutes or even two. A letter is a woman on a tryst, a veiled lover, mysterious – the moment I draw the veil aside, she submits herself entirely. How often do secrets and whispers come to us in our lives? But, whenever a letter comes, it is always in secret. When it speaks, it is always in our ears. A letter is as intimate as a kiss; but a kiss, even the longest kiss, does end; the same kiss does not offer itself twice. The letter remains; it can be reread, regained, it is never lost, never finished…’
Arunava Sinha translates classic, modern and contemporary Bengali fiction and non-fiction in English. His work speaks for himself, as he has won the Crossword translation award twice, along with the Muse India translation award. Having been shortlisted for The Independent Foreign Fiction prize (2009) for his translation of Chowringhee, Sinha’s translations number a total of twenty seven.
An accomplished poet, Bose was one of the five figures that are credited to have helped Bengali poetry emerge from its shadow of Tagore. Having read next to none Bengali fiction in my life, Buddhadeva Bose gave me an experience of reading that will be a little hard to shake off. His prose is marked by invention, refreshing modernity and an easy yet deep engagement with timeless themes like love, the nature of memory and the complexity of the relationship between men and women; qualities which keep his work enduringly relevant. There is this urge present in his words to speak out one’s emotions and make the reader understand. He threads the thin line between understanding what is one’s own and what to share with others.
Rating: 7/ 10
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