The Golden Gandhi Statue from America is a compilation of the early stories of Subimal Misra, an anti-establishment writer who has successfully managed to steer clear of mainstream publishers since he started writing in the 1960s. A self-professed follower of Jean-Luc Godard, Misra is heavily influenced by the montage-style of filmmaking that takes the audience from one scene to the next without any explanations. The reader is left with vivid, painstakingly accurate scenes that need to be put together to see the big picture. Although this style of writing renders each piece more intricate, readers unfamiliar with Bengali culture may find it difficult to follow the author’s train of thought while drawing their own inferences. However, as with all other works centred on oppressed humanity, each story has a certain element of universality which brings us to another impor-tant aspect of Misra’s writing: Misra writes to disturb, to ‘stab people with (his) pen’.
He gets under the skin of his characters to crack open the carapace into which we, aka the middle class, recede when faced with difficult situa-tions and uncomfortable questions. His works make for onerous reading simply because they seem to lack the leaven of lighter matters. They smack of polemical writing as he assiduously attacks the various accepted norms which have allowed poverty to thrive at the lower levels in society. To appreciate Misra’s approach, we must remember that these stories were written during the period when millions of displaced persons from Bangladesh (erstwhile East Bengal) ousted the Congress to establish a long period of CPM’s governance in Kolkata. Such glaring iniquitous scenes from those days are meant to convey something.
Subimal Misra, however, remains an honest writer-he depicts facts as they are. He does not take sides by either glorifying or vilifying his characters. He puts all that is held to be correct through a scanner of rationality and humanity, leaving it to the reader to piece it all together in a way they deem fit. He compels the reader to revisit events and circumstances that most individuals have trained themselves to ignore or obliterate from memory, thanks to social conditioning and the deep-rooted, animalistic survival instinct. His writings deal with a vast range of issues-oppression of weaker sections, petty crimes, delusions, commoditization and exploitation of women, etc. Though the commoditization of women is a common feature around the world, it is the added burden of poverty that makes the situation far worse in developing countries. Misra uses sex as a tool to showcase the worst side of humanity. Whatever the theme, he looks at the world from the perspective of the oppressed common man who has been denied his fundamental rights since time immemorial and now accepts everything as fate. He shares the hopelessness of the common man. His stories drip cynicism and sarcasm, negating even the possibility of the existence of positivity. Reading Misra leaves the reader chagrined and disturbed.
V. Ramaswamy’s translation manages to retain the author’s original style of writing to a large degree. The translator’s decision to retain the odd Bengali word for specific sounds has helped retain the Bengali flavour of the original works. No doubt, the translation has benefited from the fact that the translator has been closely associated with both the author and Kolkata (and its culture, politics, et al., by extension).
Subimal Misra does not write pleasurable literature. He pokes the reader in the eye, disturbing their calm and equanimity. His writing is designed to shock and arouse the strongest of sentiments in readers. Read Misra only when you are ready to question the accepted norms of ‘polite society’.