Unflinching Truth
Malashri Lal
THE BLIGHT AND SEVEN SHORT STORIES by By Bitan Chakraborty. Translated from the original Bengali by Malati Mukherjee Sambhabi the Third Eye Imprint, Calcutta, 2024, 142 pp., INR 400.00
June 2024, volume 48, No 6

Sometimes the earth screams about its wounds and its language is emotive and non-verbal. Each story in this remarkably moving collection of tales reflects the violent reality of human distrust whether among a family, a community or co-workers. As though looking down at planet earth from interstellar space, one sees only devouring tongues of flame. These are flames engulfing untidy clusters of impoverished people living in hostile circumstances, helplessly caught in economic traps laid by legacies of social discrimination. Bitan Chakraborty’s forte is to enter the microscopic, fragile templates of these marginal people and find unusual brands of survival.
‘The Blight’, the title of the first story in Chakraborty’s collection, is a shorthand for the stark world that the author will present. Exploiting consumers by creating an artificial shortage in potato stocks is seen as a ‘smart’ move rather than unethical. It is a cross-generational confrontation between the murderous greed of cold storage black marketeers and a principled old man visualizing the bleeding womb of a violated soil. The storyteller’s artful use of middle-class Bengal as the site for rapaciousness, materialism and cheating is the remarkable achievement of Chakraborty’s tightly structured narratives. A repetitive motif is a cigarette dangling from the smirking lips of some character or the other—as though to suggest, ‘who cares?’.

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