ISBN:  987-93-92281-06-8

PAGES: 123

    A short story owes its immense popularity to the fact that through it a slice of life is presented which consumes one with infinite zest. Sanjukta Dasgupta’s volume of short stories It Begins at Home and Other Stories is an eclectic mix of sixteen exceptional short stories published by Virasat Art Publication. The cover design of the book by Partha Pratim Roy depicts an apparently unobtrusive eye which in fact signifies the deep gravitas of perception. I had read some of the stories in this volume which were published in The Statesman. But while rereading them for this review I realized the appropriateness of Kunal Basu’s observation of the book, “These sharply observed tales… demand to be read and read again.”

Amita Ray
      The stories in this collection dwell on themes of social issues and their challenges, conflicts and controversies, dreams and distress in a gendered, class-based society. Deeply moving facts of social prejudices, maladies, and inequalities weave into the web of her cannily structured stories.  The titular story “It Begins at Home” brings to the forefront the unsettling fact that home is the epicentre of sexual abuse. In this story the relentless father vents his perverted desire on his teenage daughter Mimi when his wife was away for a couple of days. On her return, the anguished daughter discloses the traumatic incident to her mother pleading for a police action. But she is advised to hush it up, “Mimi, these unfortunate incidents happen in many families. Yours is not a unique case… these are never revealed, never discussed, never reported. The family is a sacred space, dear Mimi.”

     The home in its metaphoric reach extends to the space of inner life lived by Dasgupta’s characters. In the story “Bhajan Ram’s Last Night” the protagonist, a dalit casual farmer fosters a world of dreams. He dreams of building a house with a garden just like those of the Thakurs in his village. He also dreams of taking his family to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. But dalits, always at the mercy of Thakurs are not entitled to either dream or dare to overstep limits. As a result of his adamant stand for refusing to sell a piece of land housing his piggery to the Thakur, Bhajan Ram had to pay a heavy price. He was brutally set ablaze in his sleep and killed.

     Being a sensitive woman writer Dasgupta’s stories are replete with women characters, specially the marginalised second sex. They are mainly the ones who bear the brunt of injustice, oppression and relegated to obscurity. In “Just Another Suicide” Kalyani is diagnosed with cancer in uterus and needs hysterectomy, the money for which the poor family can ill afford. Her husband Nirmal together with her mother and sister conspire to get rid of her by poisoning her food and pass it off as a suicide. Ironically enough, Nirmal ties the knot second time after Kalyani’s death. In the story Hair Raising (based on real life incident) the leitmotif of patriarchal power and possessiveness is revealed unabashedly. Bela a teenage ordinary girl dreams of continuing her studies to get a job. She spurns the advances of Madan, a crook and turns down his proposal for marriage. As a revenge for his bruised male ego, Madan toppled Bela from her bicycle pulling hard her long plait. Then he dragged her along a bumpy road until she breathed her last.

      Death and unfulfilled dreams, the stark facts of life predominate in Dasgupta’s stories.  Being a keen observer, she delves deep into social problems which precipitate them and explores avenues not oft trodden.  “Mira’s Madness”   probes the post marriage traumatic experiences of a low- born graduate girl who dreams of a decent life with a job.  She flees to her mother’s home from her ‘sasur bari’(in law’s home) where people are apathetic to her dream, engaging her only in household chores.  But her mother too is equally insensitive and sends her back to her in law’s place. The mother believes that the ‘sasur bari’ is her rightful abode after marriage.  Mira attempts suicide but survives; she is “trapped like a rat in a cage.” She frantically searches for a job and is eventually stigmatized as a lunatic!  The story “Change” focuses on the ubiquitous love for gold ornaments of supposedly emancipated women hailing from all classes of society. Ironically enough this fondness for the yellow metal belies the iconic Rokeya Sakhwat’s article Alankar naa Badge of Slavery.

      But women are not the only losers in life; there are male losers too.  In the story “Loser” the protagonist Anil is a jobless slum dweller with a Master’s degree in English together with a B Ed, degree. He is destined to be a loser not only in building up his career but woefully a failure in love too. The story “Charred Dreams” highlights a hard hitting truth. Any sophisticated endeavour to be implemented in a locality demands that the people of the place should be sensitive enough to the enterprise and mentally ready to accept it as a part of their social existence. Hence Ranjit Gupta’s dream of establishing Rabindra Bhavan Library in a locality inhabited by people who fail to comprehend its worth and sanctity is not successful.

      Nostalgic facts of life and emotions spin around the stories “Adjust” and “Freedom” leaving a whiff of pathos in our mind. The story “Metamorphosis” vividly portrays the change in Avik’s attitude towards life and his elderly parents, once he is married and settles down in America with his materialistic wife. A bitter slice of present day life is evinced in the poignantly narrated story.  

       The much favoured device of a short story ending with a twist in the end is ingenuously employed by Dasgupta in some of her stories. Both the stories “Freedom” and “Loser” bear her idiosyncratic stamp of gifting the reader with surprise ending. The fine raconteur with an array of themes to lay her hands on skilfully transports the readers to the pre independence days of Master da and his band of freedom fighters in the story “Good Friday 1930”.  

     The stories are heartfelt engagement with a broad spectrum of life in all hues and spirit. Her pithy style, insightful clarity of thoughts, rejuvenates us. At the same time they leave an overwhelming sense of despair exposing the ironies of human existence which plague our society.

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