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
Price: Rs 150
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.
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