Second Encounter, first published in Bengali in 1972 as Je Jekhane Danriye, traces the relationship between Anupam and Anjali, two individuals who love each other and yet continue to live their own separate fragmentary lives. The novella presents episodes that are stranded across time and geographical spaces and are a chaotic flux of emotions. Anupam and Anjali knew each other during their teenage years, and when the novel begins, meet after twenty years, quite accidentally, in the weekly market of Musabani. Their unrequited love of early years is rekindled, and this leads to a series of moments when the reader sees a romance tale being unfolded, a tale without an apt beginning or a just ending—simply as an ‘encounter’.
‘Encounter’ in Bangla is ‘shakat’, a meeting. This novella is about meetings—between Anupam and Anjali, their son and daughter (Bappa and Jhumjhum), their spouses (Anita and Ranen). Each of these meetings initiates affections and friendships that are not sustained after a while. Perhaps this impossibility of sustainable relationships is hinted at in the original Bengali title that literally translates as those who are standing thus. ‘Danriye’ or standing at their own spot, the characters in the novella do not pursue any orderly meta-language of love, marriage or romance.
The reader sees only possibilities of love stories, dispersed tales of what-could-have-been. Anupam and Anjali’s tale remains unfinished. Bappa and Jhumjhum’s tale is unspoken and unheard. Anita and Ranen seem to live half-baked domestic and official lives, each striving to find meanings in their marriages because the world refuses to offer them any.
Encounters do not lend meaning in this book. Encounters only make people confront their pasts. And these pasts are disorderly, fractured and indistinct. The pasts also allude to future meetings, a hint that the title gives away through the word ‘second’. If Anupam and Anjali had their second, can Bappa and Jhumjhum have a third encounter? Does repeated chance encounters piece together a tale that otherwise was left scattered away? Is love then an experience that can only be captured through dispersed narratives? The book never provides easy answers to any of these questions.
The author talks about Anjali’s love for Anupam as an unexplainable gap, a lack: ‘What did a woman want from life? Hadn’t Anjali got it all—a handsome and caring husband, a charming daughter like Jhumjhum, a carefree life and more than enough money? In short, hadn’t she managed to acquire happiness itself? Perhaps she wanted to introduce a spot of fresh colour into her monotonous life by looking back at memories.’ Love ought to serve a purpose, provide happiness. In spite of being happy when Anjali yearns for Anupam, love confounds logic and seems purposeless. This love cannot be appropriated or accounted for. A similar attempt to explain love reappears when Anupam sees his son pining for Jhumjhum: ‘I never imagined for a moment that you too would be a fool, just the way
I had been, and fall in love! I had thought that you belonged to a different generation, practical and tough, well able to shake off the thorns of disappointment from your heart.’ With advancement of technology, love ought to have found better reasons. Alas! The inexplicable nature of love persists. This is best captured when Anupam sees Bappa and Jhumjhum building castles in the wet sand and the author notes, ‘It was a huge castle. But it was made of sand.’
The word ‘but’ captures the heart of the novella. This is a book about love. Each character wants love, seeks the company of the other, yearns to feel and savour the moment of desire. This is also a book where nobody wants to act upon their emotions, and often procrastinates on the moment of loving
another. Desire is deferred upon. So while castles are built based upon romance, marriage and companionship, each character
recognizes the slippery nature of the same. Romance is presented as a possibility,
within reach—but eventually torn apart. Hence the need for repeated meetings and encounters because no single moment
allows love to inhabit completely. Perhaps within the novelistic universe of Second
Encounter there is no finished complete
love story. Every story has love that ought to remain incomplete. Even Swapna Dutta’s translation participates in a similar back-
and-forth movement with the original Bengali text. The English text retains the
neologisms, puns, indeterminacies and
associative potential of Bangla, and creatively deviates from the protocols of English
grammar and syntax. This lends a rich sound, a sense of traffic and movement to the English translation of the novel. The 100 page book traces and demonstrates
that possibilities exist, and that finalities need not always be reached. The potential of the book lies in sustaining encounters and withdrawing from providing a final word to the reader.
Aratrika Das teaches English Literature in the Department of English, Ramjas College, University of Delhi, Delhi.