It’s not everyday that I sit down to write about a Bangla book. There are a few that not only tug a few strings at the heart, but pull them hard enough to inflict pain. Kachher Manush (The Close One) by Suchitra Bhattacharya is an epic work in contemporary Bangla Literature. SB was an immensely popular writer over decades until she passed away untimely last year. Her stories have always been as close to our middle class reality as they could. She wrote almost solely about the average Bengali family, one you’d spot around you daily with all its problems, undercurrents of tension and occasional bursts of joy. Kachher Manush was written in the eighties, quite early in SB’s career and yet it portrays the mastery that she had in her craft. The writing waned later though, stories became repetitive, plots became a little mundane, but she produced occasional masterpieces like Kancher Dewal, Neel Ghurni, Dahan and Parobash. Among the good, bad and ugly ones, Kachher Manush is the one I love the most.
The opening pages are laced with hope and anticipation. Titir, a teenager in full bloom in the eighties Calcutta has just appeared for her Secondary examinations in school. She awaits her alcoholic father Aditya’s homecoming from a hospital. SB does a wonderful, rather wistful job in narrating the ambience around Titir as she waits for her mother Indrani to fetch Aditya home. She lives in a huge house, in a ‘joint family’ that we were so familiar to in the previous century. Titir’s family comprises of little islands, bound loosely together by her ailing grandfather. Her paternal uncle Sudip and his wife Runa have aptly named their son Atom, probably in apprehension that they would live as a nuclear family sometime in future. Aditya’s youngest brother Kandarpa is a wannabe actor who lives in horns of dilemma, tethering between right and wrong. SB describes these islands through the eyes of Titir’s elder brother Bappa, who admits being the smallest isthmus, waiting to sever his ties with the dysfunctional family soon by applying for a sailor’s job.
Although the author metes quite large roles to these characters, the heroine of the novel is Indrani. Her life and their events that shatter her into pieces gradually are peeled off in layers as the story progresses. She is the sole earner of her part of the family as Adita is a no-gooder. He dawdles between the persona of a loving father and a husband who craves for his wife. The reason Indrani isn’t entirely Aditya’s is Subhasish – the other pivotal point in the story. It is amazing how easily SB has woven these lives together. The peripheral characters wonder why Subhasish, the doctor, still visits his former love Indrani and how he gels with the entire family. As the story sails, we get a glimpse of Subhasish and his family, depicting how he is torn between the two women integral in his life and the way he copes with them.
Several subplots emerge to woo you into the story – Kandarpa and his struggle with the Bengali film industry, buildup of a latent romance with his friend’s widow, a peek of the Naxalite movement in early seventies Calcutta and how it affected these lives, the disappearance of Indrani’s brother Tanumoy who fought for the movement and suddenly left everything including his senile parents. There’s a clash of ego and emotions between Titir and Subhasish’s son Toto, and it’s a wonderful depiction of two different perspectives from two teenagers. The family is broken along with their ancestral house when Titir’s grandpa dies, and the events that follow tear off the masks from each character. The equations between every two characters change, especially Titir and her mother. There are twists and turns and you have to read this epic to know what happens. Does Bappa become a sailor and leave home for good? Does Indrani’s brother Tanumoy return as a prodigal son? Does Subhasish emerge as a righteous surgeon like his father who still serves in a village? Does Aditya finally get hold of a job and win his wife back?
Suchitra Bhattacharya has kept it simple with this book. She flourishes with the story rather than fancy words and articulation. It’s the story that holds you together till the last page, perhaps yearning for more at the end. My favourite character is Indrani and it’s a revelation that such people exist, at least within book covers.
Highly recommended for anyone who can read Bangla. For others, you have to wait till some kind soul decides to translate the book to near perfection.
My Rating: 4.8/5
About the Author:
After graduating from the University of Calcutta she married and took a break from writing. She returned to writing with short stories written in the late seventies (1978–1979). She started writing novels in the mid eighties. Within a decade, especially after publication of the novel Kacher Dewal (Glass Wall), she became one of the major writers of Bengal.
Language: Bangla, Genre: Fiction/Drama
Author(s): Suchitra Bhattacharya, Publisher: Ananda,
Binding: Hardcover, Pages: 644
ISBN-13: 978-8172155414, ISBN-10: 8172155417
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