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 CURRENT ISSUE JUNE 17, 2002  

BOOKS

Delhi 1984

The concealed merit of a Jnanpith winner

By Antara Dev Sen

    Books
OTHER STORIES RELATED TO BOOKS

Karl's Kapital
Agony Uncle

How delightful-the work of a Jnanpith winner from Assam in a familiar language! The Northeast is under-represented in mainstream Indian literatures, and an English translation of a novel by Indira Goswami is most welcome.

It's called Pages Stained with Blood. Ah. The trouble begins.

PAGES STAINED WITH BLOOD
By Indira Goswami
Translated by Pradip Acharya
Katha
Price: Rs 150
Pages: 160

This translation regards its provenance as classified information. The title, date of publication or even the language of the original is not disclosed. This spirit of concealment continues in the translation. To decode it, you need to know some Indian languages. The buradangarias and sadors jostle with countless unnecessary Hindi and Urdu words-unannotated, unitalicised-to offer this text in apna English. What is best concealed here is the literary merit of a Jnanpith winner.

The story, set in Delhi in 1984, is the first person account of a celebrated Assamese writer who teaches at Delhi University. The narrator has several other similarities with the author herself, but this is a "work of fiction" and we would do well to remember that. Especially since the protagonist obsesses on her notebook and a large part of the novel is taken up by her running to get it, taking it out, carrying it, picking it up, dropping it, opening it and sometimes, even writing in it.

She has a number of male admirers, whom she encourages coyly in order to hone her writing skills. There is this "deep impossible urge inside me to study men so that I can portray them correctly in my novels," she insists. "I want to analyse a man's mental world and use that knowledge in my stories." Of course, the men don't know that. One sad lad is an autorickshaw driver. We are constantly reminded that "Santokh Singh is prepared to even jump into a fire for me" and "I knew that he was ready to sacrifice his life for me". Her response: "His sweat drenched shirt let out a whiff I found very manly."

Sometimes, the treatment is more subtle. "Brigadier Mansingh again looked me over with those Jung Bahadur eyes, those glowing orbs that pierced my flesh wherever they fell. I could feel a constriction in my chest." Her response: "I didn't know why but I felt as if two streams were about to start flowing from my eyes."

Surely the winner of India's highest literary award can do better than this? One suspects the original is quite different. In her distinguished literary career, Goswami has sensitively addressed the themes of sexual desire and violence. That's sadly missing in Pages.

To examine the Delhi of 1984, Pages lists in diligent detail what the protagonist does, says and sees, which include the riots following Indira Gandhi's assassination. But somewhere between the Ahomiya and the English, the novel is lost. What we get is a catalogue of events, objects and stereotypes in a curious language-unedited, uncorrected, unhappy. If you want to read a catalogue, you'd be better off curling up with the mail-order kind. Would be more pleasant, and probably in English.

NEW RELEASES

Early Novels in India

Ed by Meenakshi Mukherjee (Sahitya Akademi, Rs 140)
Examining the early novels and the social, cultural and economic factors that influenced them.

Five Decades of Indo-US Relations

By Harinder Sekhon (UBS Publishers, Rs 395)
An assessment of the understanding, interpretation, presentation of India by American social scientists.

The Beauty Book

By Dr Rekha Sheth (Penguin, Rs 200)
A complete, self-help manual to skin and hair care.

Reflections on Meta-Reality

By Roy Bhaskar (Sage, Rs 280)
Transcendence, emancipation and daily life-philosophical traditions of the past for contemporary use.

 

Indian Defence Yearbook 2002

By Lt-General Jasbir Singh (Natraj, Rs 950)
All you wanted to know about the armed forces.

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