The Secret, Aju Mukhopadhyay,
Global Fraternity, Gurugram, 132 pages, Price Rs 270, $ 18/-
I start with a personal experience. Years ago, Aju ji reviewed my book. Before my review I give you the blurb on the folded jacket of The Secret.
Among the books the author has published three books three of short stories are in Bengali and two are in English. Present book is the third book of his short stories in English which were published in many distinguished magazines, E-Zines and web sites. Some of 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 in Contemporary Short Stories in Indo-Anglian English, Selected Short Stories in Contemporary Short Stories…. This book contains 15 short-stories.
The blurb goes: Written over a period of nearly nine years. There are topics like contemporary social scenario including ethics and politics besides ethnic issues, environment and wildlife areas. Some have eerie connections. His stories find their roots spread to other countries reflecting his wide travelling experiences. Each of these stories draw attention to reader’s attention towards something new and something piquant. He introduces himself as: “Award winning world Poet with membership of various international poetry sites, Member of the Advisory Board of Editors in some important magazines, Author of various genres of books, Laureate award winner for books (Non-fiction), Novelist, Essayist, Environmentalist and Critic. Award winning world Poet with membership of various inter poetry sites.
This writer’s mental makeup and the highly influenced creativity are conditioned by Bengali tradition as seen in his dedication the great story writers: Tarashanker Bandyopdhyay, Bibhutibushan Bandhopadhyay, Manik Badhopadhyay, Jyotinindra Nandy, and Parashuram (Rajasekhar Basu).
Every story is unique in that it has the background of a different culture, language and tradition. The narration is dramatic. The first story “Flood changes the Flow of her Life’, a tale of West Bengal. Compared to the four tea gardens of Assam and Bangladesh…The narrator talks to an old lady when she asked him staring at her. What are you at?’ He replies … ‘I’m not ogling at you…’The writer goes on and on, about things happening around (That is very interesting reading) and finally completes the narration: ‘The story of the 76 years old in our home is different: she isn’t known to any outs, she isn’t certified by any paper. She doesn’t hanker after an identity. Who’s a person most genuine among us, you. me any ordinary politician or she?” (page.7).
“Ways of Living” is the story of a jungle, animals. The narrator learns many things from his brother-in-law, a forest ranger, a high placed officer with dangerous duties. The writer is influenced by works of VS. Naipaul, Rabindranath Tagore’s Life in Mahasweta Devi’s Motherof 1084, Naxalite movement. It is like most of the stories of polychromatic phantasmagoria. “The old and new, evolved newer exist side by side, I feel a thirst in my heart about knowing the ways of living of humans as well as animals, of insects and other beings on earth and beyond.” (p.15) The write declares concluding of the tale.
“Compromise” deals with tricksters and dupes in contemporary society. The ashram of Digamber of Jalpaiguri, a married man, debonair with ‘affairs’ managing them with great tact sliding underground. “Ashrams are innocent until something contrary to that is reported through the media.” Digamber’s surreptitious affair with Rita is manged with prudence. There is a “laddu effect” which the reader enjoys reading by his wife Durga, his lady, a ‘compromise’ thus: “Actually the childless couple almost begged for them. We compromised on the question of our affection for our children to help them.
“The visitors looked at each other, looked again and downed their heads, looking again with heartfelt desire of having the children among them. But they had to compromise (italics the reviewer’s) with the situation.” (p.32)
“Neither a Utopia nor a Dystopia”, the next story has a quote “Gazing up at the sky dark spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.” Albert Camus.
Preetam Munshi is an octogenarian, professor emeritus, lives alone, his wife dead several years ago, in Kolkata. His sons, daughter-in law and granddaughters, come from the US for a brief stay. For the old man the world has undergone a vast change. In thirty years from 1990 to 2020 urban expansion has been astounding. Industries are fast growing changing the outlooks of citizens tremendously. Riya, his granddaughter is the apple of his eye. She questions her granddad: “Do you think after all that the earth is dystopian?” “Never so; I strongly believe that a reasonable and sensible living and spending and conserving at the same time would not only save us but help us to really improve. If man denies, I am sure that Nature will compel him even after taking a good toll for disobedience, to reverse his course in order to arrive at the right path. The earth is neither a utopia nor a dystopia, it is as it is.”
With whatever education so far received, Riya could not realise the purport of his speech but she noted it down in her notebook for further work on it after going back. (Page42)
The 6th and 7th are stories of suicides: Suicide on a Moonlight and Suicide on a Railway track. The first is about unnatural and unhealthy sexuality of brother and sister and the behaviour of an old woman who leaves the house. Shreyasi narrates the story of her sister Preya. Nabagopal is an impotent man and Preya confesses her relation with her brother. Their mother leaves the very big house saying this: “After all, it is my house too. We have plenty of rooms here as my father expanded his dwelling after retirement to live well the remaining years of our life,” she said, expressing forma sorrow that her mother-in-law was unwell which is quite normal in old age. She advised him to arrange for nursing of her by professional nurses, of whom she knew a few. (page.52) “Suicide on a Railway Track” is a sequel to the first. Now the person kill himself is a nonagenarian. “The whole surrounding became calm and quiet again with the moon above, the sky cloudless. All present there close to the body of the dead man. It was no woman’s body. To my surprise the dead one was my nonagenarian neighbour. He was freed from life. (page56)
“Empty House” is the shortest of the author’s stories about a large multi-storied villa which was forlorn with the residents killed. The residents around cautioned visitors not to stay there for the night. The new comers ridiculed those who cautioned them. A couple entered with their three children. As they came and the sun sank all kinds of horrid things began to show up. The story made the visitors hold their breath in fear. … they came down and slept on the pathway. Next morning all of the family were found sleeping at the gateway. One of the men who warned them came to ask how they felt. The story ends thus: “Two of them were awake and the three were awake but could not speak. Helped by some of them who gathered there, one after another, they got into their car and drove away.” (page.59)
“In the Company of William, Samuel and Dorothy” is a story which greatly pleases readers. It begins thus: “While it is difficult to decide whether it was a school of hypochondriacs, as Jeffrey said about the lakeists or the soul of Wordsworth’s moral being that led them as the poet himself said, it is a fact that the lake district of England influenced the creation of a number of English poets an carrying its tradition it influenced two great Indian poets, Manmohan Ghose and his brother, Aurobindo Ghose, later known as Sri Aurobindo. While journeying through the Lake District I journeyed back to the past and lived in the company of some illustrious persons of the time.” It is not a story he is writing but a record of fantastic reminiscences. I provide some of them. The lover of the lakes wrote: “As I was cruising the lakagon a long beach with others, the dales, they which the 19h century poets, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, S.T. Coleridge, Robert Southey, and their friends. charmed Now, reader, read the rest yourself this pleasant piece…Reminiscing his childhood days, Wordsworth, in his Prelude wrote: When summer came, “Our pastime was, on bright half-, holidays To sweep along, the plain of Windermere with rival oars”. (p.61) He wrote. “If The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was valued at five pounds only, what was the value of the whole British Empire?” (p.65) He concluded: “It was as a solitary travel mixed with nostalgia. It was a venture to be in the company of the poets who still live and appear, may be, in the solitude of the night by the window side of a room you may be in and see them perchance.” (p.66)
“They Came Down from the Roof of the Word” is the story of Tibetans. Their monasteries were destroyed and their Tibetan way of life was tarnished and destroyed. The Tibetans began to come and settle in Taj Bangla. Dalma Delchen went and settled in America. The story portrays the history of Tibetans under Chinese dominance and cruelty. Stalin said “It is good you are preparing to attack the Tibetans. The Tibetans need to be subdued!” He also advised him to send San Chinese in Xingang and other Tibetan regions to deform their society, desecrate their age-old heritage and even parentage. (p.77) The narrator brought in a few characters to show how they were drawn towards Lord Krishna, Dalai Lama and Dharamshala. The Tibetans were reborn within a short time. The story is excellently conceived and fascinatingly executed.
“Life Nostalgic” is a story which draws hilarious comic feelings. This is the beginning: “It was drizzling from morning. Manmadha Roy Chaudhury, the second son of the famous industrialist and Ram Chandra Roy Chowdhury, became the victim of rains; his eagerness to meet someone was upset by the rains. The rain made him bored, morose for the time being. When the rain gave a short respite after ten, he called Aziz and asked if father had already gone… The characters in the tale are Shodahsi, Manmadha’ s daughter, Bindi his granddaughter” to begin with: “Manmadha caressed her from face to the legs, moving his hand aptly. Seeing suc strong hands and big moustache, she almost recoiled. After a little Bindi said: “leave her today, Babu, she is in tears.” (p.85) This is a tale of home sickness (the title says that), a wistful longing for something known in ta past.)
Sarbani, his daughter-in-law, appeared at the door halting the free movement of his memories. While entering she heard the shout, Aei Guard. Aei Guard, stop the train, stop.” When nothing more was heard, she asked, “Baba, the Guard stopped, can I serve your meal now?” (p.91)
That age had many stories to tell, not of him only. ‘Sarbani confirmed but her father-in-law was insistent, “Still my stories are my stories and they haven’t been concluded.” (p.94)
I am sure, the reader reads the tale to its end.
“Road to that Future” is story about Mother, Mother India. It has incidents and people who thought, worked and sacrificed for the cause Bande Mataram in Ananda math, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Aurobindo Ghose, Balagangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Paul, Lala Lajpat Rai and Subhas Chandra Bose. Rano remembered later that this horrible Bengal famine. He. knows all, and he also knows that his time also going out fast. He was walking with two men on either side. He argued that Shyama Prasad’s resignation was prompted by two situations, political and humanitarian, as a protest. After some time, he found himself walking alone. But he was sure that his friends were with him on either side. He walked and walked towards the future. This is not funny at all.
“The Secret” is a long story, the longest of the fifteen. The reader passes through a maze of characters, happenings, secrets and mysteries. Truly it is a piece of fascinating occurrences and characters. I don’t want to make this review very long since it would be surely be committing a sin.
“Jungle Dream” is not really fiction, it is the description of an experience dealing with animals like antelopes, leopards, grey elephants gliding past “like a gargantuan passing over us.” Even pangolins are seen. The story of the visit to the jungle was possible because of the friendly Forest Range Officer. There are references to Jharkhand where poachers are plenty.
“How Fast Man Adjusts to Changes, How Fast he Forgets his Past” is the last but the briefest of the stories in the book. Alokeprasad visits the old man Nandgopalji. The old man tells the visitor that that part of South Bihar was created in 2000 and the places, Ranchi, Neta hat, Chaibasa, Madupur, Giridi, Simultala and Ghatshila where the writer, Bibhutibushan, sometimes, lived. He is happy that his son who studied in a Christian Missionary Educational institution and ended up as a software engineer in Switzerland. Aloke left in the morning but wondering how fast man adapts to his changed surroundings.
Aju’s book gives very pleasant and fascinating reading.