Space of One’s Own
Semeen Ali
A PLATE OF WHITE MARBLE by Bani Basu. Translated from the original Bengali by Nandini Guha Niyogi Books, 2020, 326 pp., 450.00
February 2021, volume 45, No 2

‘People put birds in cages for their own amusement. Well, I was like a caged bird. And I would have to remain in this cage for life. I would never be freed.’

This quote is from Rassundari Devi’s autobiography, Amar Jiban. Written in 1876, this book is considered the first autobiography written by a Bengali woman. I mention this book because of the echoes that one finds occasionally in Swet Patharer Thala (A Plate of White Marble). Whilst Rassundari Devi was widowed when she was nearly sixty years old, Bandana, the protagonist of this novel, is only in her twenties when she is widowed. A young widow and her struggles with a patriarchal society that attempts to stifle her at every stage of her life by turning up in various avatars. The book opens with a description of the house and then describes the roles demarcated for men and women. Partha Chatterjee in his essay Colonialism, Nationalism, and Colonialized Women: The Contest in India (1989) looks at the colonial discourse where the stress was on the creation of the identity of an Indian woman as being superior to that of a western woman; the home/world dichotomy being one of the criteria. He writes:

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