Aju Mukhopadhyay: The Secret
Published by Global Fraternity of Poets, Gurugram 2019. Pp : 132, Price : Rs 270/- $ 15. ISBN : 978-93-83755-89-9.
Biligual in English and Bangla, Aju Mukhopadhyay is a captivating storyteller and his literary career is lined with laurels and national and international awards. He is surely a man of outstanding literary gifts as well as a great poet, environmentalist and storyteller. Along with his two previous books of short-stories the present stories treasured in ‘The Secret’ are undeniably gripping and interesting. A reader sometimes freezes, taken aback by the events as well as the warm shock passing through him. Some remarkable Aju’s stories have been translated and anthologized as in Indian short-stories, in German language, Indo-Australian Anthology of Short Fiction, the Editor’s Choice, Contemporary Short Stories in Indian English, Selected Short Stories in Contemporary Indo-Anglian Literature and Voyage.
Much akin to Aju’s previous volumes of short stories, ‘The Secret’ too covers almost all vital gamut of human emotions like love, hatred, joy, sorrow, jealousy, selfishness, wickedness, greed, disloyalty and many more. Despite reflecting contemporary social scenario like, ethics, politics, corruption and environment issues his stories are full of the beauties of nature, of flora and fauna, and their unfortunate destruction and final disappearance wrought by cruel, selfish and greedy human hands. But since the writer is a passionate lover of nature and believes in eco-friendly living, he lamentably deplores such heinous acts. He knows that India has ‘more than 60 minerals like coal, iron, bauxite, manganese, chromite and others including the one which helps develop nuclear power’. There are mining areas and rich forests ‘with watersheds of key rivers of the country which account for the rich biodiversity of the land’, Neither a Utopia nor a Dystopia (p. 36). But most pathetically, in such rich areas the poorest tribal live and so it simply comes to mean that ‘Destroying one is destroying the others too’. Expressing his deep resentment Aju even gives a rough data, based on his speculation. He first affirms that urban areas have expanded to the extent of 58000 sq. km., but it is anticipated that it would cover 430000 sq. km. by 2030. Soon, as could be seen, exquisite ‘coastal areas have been encroached’ and ‘forest denuded’ at the cost of biodiversity, ailing the earth. Solely owing to urbanization and industrialization the fertile cultivable land of Tamil Nadu has been reduced to five lakh hectares. As such, nature has fallen prey to greed, money, ‘power lovers’ who heartlessly govern this pitiable earth just ‘by the mechanical rut of politics and democracy, by their lust for everything called wealth for themselves for which the now and the future of mankind is utterly doomed to ruination.’ Neither a Utopia nor a Dystopia (p. 37). Pathetically, both mining and urbanization have conspired with each other to cast their dark shadow and swallow ‘the earth everywhere’.
In Forest Dream, Aju also airs his grievances against the poachers through the Forest Range Officer who explicitly admits that Jharkhand is full of poachers working under the directions of ‘…industries who denude the forest for mining, uprooting the trees and the inhabitants of the forestland from ancient time.’ Jungle Dream (p. 126). In the last story How Fast Man Adapts to Changes, How Fast he Forgets his Past (p.130) the author’s outrage over deforestation, uprooting native people and destruction of flora and fauna has been spotlighted through Nandgopal when he says that the natives ‘have been uprooted from their ancestral lands as the mine mafias, coal and ironmongers are exploring their chance of becoming billionaire at the cost of the common people, nature and animal world like hawks in modern India’. He ironically continues that such an approach that denudes forest resources uproots native people, destroys flora and fauna is called development. And most pitiably such nefarious designs are carried out by few legal and illegal miners and their supporters employed by the Govt. itself. The degradation of Govt. and politicians is also highlighted in ‘Chased in Turn’ (p. 17) when the writer clearly says, ‘…many successful present-day-politicians had committed murders ruthlessly either by their own hands or through the mercenaries… no scruple should stand on their way if they wished to be successful in life.’ This apart, even the general masses are indifferent to all the goings-on around them. In Compromise (p. 23) Aju, after closely observing the current grim scenario establishes that neither the Govt. is interested in maintaining law and order nor the people care ‘what happens around them’. In the same story Aju’s vitriolic attack on the Ashram (a holy place of religious retreat) is also quite pronounced. He observes that Ashrams appear innocent ‘until something contrary to that is reported through the media’. But this happens only in adverse circumstances, otherwise, the managers and holy-men of the Ashrams are adept at hushing up all evil activities so that further reporting is silenced.
Reminiscing about the sad past, the writer’s emotional distress grows bitter when he talks of Colonial period i.e. when India was not free and exploited by the Britishers for he noticed that even freedom ‘has become a curse for some as they have become more slaves than before. More exploitation by our countrymen is witnessed now than by the foreigners in the past!’ The grimly ironical and satirical lines are a clear sign of outburst of indignation, frustration, disappointment and grievance that are deeply entrenched in Aju’s subconscious mind. This instantly brings to my mind the perceptive predictions of Winston Churchill when he uttered these words as an argument on why India should not be granted freedom: ‘Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles’. How painfully true the sentences spoken long ago were, but sans feeling remorseful, how disgraceful, disdainful, shameful and baneful it becomes when we see that these lines fitly apply to the Indians of India today!
Though Aju has an open mind to see that ‘the ways of living of humans as well as of animals, of insects and other beings on earth and beyond’ are unique and different, he could comprehend how in nature the ‘varieties of life, ways of living and lifestyle are so genuine that man’s imitative styles in many cases seem artificial and bizarre’. The Ways of Living (p. 8). However, he also acknowledges ‘that peculiar are the ways of varied beings living on earth as if designed by some unknown artist-designer’ (p. 13). Deeply interested in and loves nature and wildlife, he knows a lot about animals, like lions, antelopes, monkeys, wild boars, birds, pangolins, etc. A poet at heart, he even poetically compares pangolin to ‘a beast of ‘medieval legend with its fantastic armament of overlapping scales like an antique coat of mail…resembles a scaly ant-eater, an old-world edentate mammal of Asia and Africa’( p. 13). He feels that animals belong to the same species of human-animal; they though are ignorant of the ways of how animals live and survive, are still ironically cruel to them. It is rather deeply agonizing that in ‘Chased in Turn’ (p. 16), Rafique and Salim were taken to some place for shooting practices and were asked to kill some animals ‘in order to self-prepare themselves for a bigger job’. Should one ruthlessly kill innocent animals just to prepare himself for some great career?
The world created by Aju is very vast; he is always on lookout for newer and newer horizons. Every new story reflects a new world and new ideas. In the Company of William, Samuel and Dorothy (p. 60), Aju, carries us on the wings of poesy to the Lake District of England to spend some wonderful time with the great Romantic poets like William Wordsworth, S. T. Coleridge and Dorothy Wordsworth. The description of every sight is vivid, picturesque and telling. In They Came Down from the Roof of the World (p. 67), one feels he is taken to the roof of the world which is nothing but Tibet and the cause of Tibetans. Some rebellious, violent and turbulent scenes and events of the past were also presented, entailing, persecution, the revengeful killings by ‘Red Guards’, the attack on the socio-cultural identity of the Tibetans at the direction of Stalin, Dalai Lama’s escape, the Chinese invasion of India in 1962, etc, etc. The whole story only unfolds that Aju is against exploitation, injustice, suppression, cruelty and violation of human rights.
Kaleidoscopic in nature, this collection of short stories also deals with suspense, mystery, folklore, deception, identity issues, man’s cruelty, socio-political satire, soul-searching analysis, introspection, philosophy, humanitarianism and a wide range of topics with unusual candour. The first story, Flood Changed the Flow of Her Life (p. 1) delineates a devastating scene of the flood that inundated hearth and home, damaged crops, making cultivation impossible ‘till receding of water’. Pitiably, flood-affected victims leaving their home town for Calcutta metropolis had to live ‘by begging, some by doing odd jobs and some died in some corners of the city’ (p. 2). Pitifully, the writer observes, ‘That Calcutta no longer exists. It is Kolkata with a huge population that it seems it cannot absorb such an exodus from time to time’ (p. 5). Doubtlessly, the influx of people of the different community from adjoining areas, like Bangladesh, flood the city streets, footpaths, parks and road corners ‘without real flood happening anywhere’, becoming ironically, a ‘flood of people.’ The bitter irony, says Aju, is, ‘Today’s genuine resident tomorrow becomes alien and aliens become genuine residents of an area’ (p. 6). In such a situation, one witnesses some people who are enticed by the city life are mockingly called ‘Garib’ by those who enjoyed their patronage. Aju becomes corrosively satiric here when he boldly says that politicians patronize such helpless, poor and marooned people for votes by providing them ration cards and other essentials needed for survival so that they continue to live there. The writer sharpens the edge of his satire when he says that such ‘sordid existence’ is essentially the ‘offshoot of democracy’. The writer’s subtle perception finally shifts to an old lady unknown to any outsider, uncertified in any document and doesn’t also hanker after any identity. It is the writer’s humility and deep understanding of life that he considers this old woman superior to any ‘ordinary politician’ or anyone among us that hankers for an identity or even face an identity crisis, for an identity (less) person does not need to crave for any identity or face identity crisis. How meaningful and psychological, at least from the point of view of the writer’s novel perception!
Aju surely has a knack for telling stories and that too on a variety of themes. Apart from dealing with the sordid state of environmental issues, socio-political scenario, nature and wildlife, he also talks of the roles of jealousy, betrayal, selfishness, wickedness, etc. in human relations as elucidated in Suicide on a Moonlit Night (p. 44). Empty House (p. 57) centres on horror and mystery, Life nostalgic (p. 84) is full of humour and fun, The Secret (p. 107) the last story of the anthology, is replete with secrets and suspense, entailing a breach of trust, exploitation and betrayal. One often witnesses all these in day-to-day life. Nothing alien, nothing unnatural, nothing impossible could be found in this book even by a stern critic. Throughout the book, we also get to see that the writer has not lost touch with reality. All events, incidents and happenings portrayed are realistic, characters are life-like and scenes and sights delineated are picturesque. Literary devices employed, like irony, humour, banter, satire, simile, metaphor, suspense, catastrophe, etc. are appropriate to the situation. The style adopted is simple, racy and pacy that is easily intelligible even to an ordinary reader. All the stories easily arrest one’s attention and keep one spell-bound and one remains hooked up to the book till the end.
One is often impressed by Aju’s mighty imagination and creative power emanating from profound understanding and deep perception of life. He is always hopeful that his powerfully motivational words inspired by his eco-friendly attitude will surely lead to healthy living for this earth and its inhabitants one day. It cannot be denied that our literary world is also much enriched by the unprecedented contribution of this great genius.
My hearty felicitations to Aju Mukhopadaya on this wonderful creation!