A Social Shift Captured
Ipshita Chanda
SHEET SAHASIK HEMANTOLOK: DEFYING WINTER by Nabaneeta Dev Sen Oxford Novellas, Oxford University Press, 2014, 140 pp., 250
August 2014, volume 38, No 8

Defying Winter, Tutun Mukherjee’s trans- lation of Nabaneeta Dev Sen’s novella about women in an old-age home in Calcutta of the eighties captures the beginning of a social shift. Whether this was then applicable to the whole of India is difficult to say without adequate statistics, but the overall change in the social climate seems to throw up start-ling realties about hitherto unexamined ‘ordinary’ lives now offered some alternative possibilities, not at the time of life when one takes opportunity for granted, but when one is called upon to recognize mortality as a fact of life. The many interwoven first-person narratives spoken by different residents of the home make up the novella. We are able to follow one’s opinion of the other, and each one’s views about her own situation through leads and references in each narrative, it’s speaker announced by the title of each monologue. The old-age home, like a more particularized version of the ‘ladies coupe’ admits of several personalities, perhaps ineffective in their younger days, perhaps totally eclipsed by patriarchy, but nevertheless now in a position to look back reflectively, see the flaws and positives and arrive at what is most comforting at this stage of their lives—be it loneliness, company, peace, weariness—secured through the decision to move to the old-age home itself despite what ‘people will say’ in a society still based upon tradition, continuity and lip-service to filial duty. That women have always been the vehicles and victims of such a society does not mean that they have not also always been tasked with having to maintain it and the contradictions and challenges of this task are obvious here from as many perspectives as there are speakers.

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