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Six Acres and a Third

A clever and witty novel that has been hailed as a foundational text in Indian literary history.

india Updated: Feb 25, 2006 18:34 IST
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Six Acres and a Third (Chha Mana Atha Guntha)
by Fakir Mohan Senapati
Translated by Rabi Shankar Mishra, Satya P. Mohanty, Jatindra K. Nayak, Paul St-Pierre
Paperback
Penguin Books India
Pages: 222
Price: Rs 250.00
ISBN: 0143028731

‘A significant event for not only Indian literature, but world literature. Senapati’s Six Acres and a Third is a foundational text in Indian literary history’ —U.R. Anantha Murthy, author of Samskara

This sly and humorous novel by Fakir Mohan Senapati—one of the pioneering spirits of modern Indian literature and an early activist in the fight against the destruction of native Indian languages—is both a literary work and a historical document. Set in Orissa in the 1830s, Six Acres and a Third provides a unique ‘view from below’ of Indian village life under colonial rule.

This graceful translation faithfully conveys the rare and compelling account of how the more unsavoury aspects of colonialism affected life in rural India.

Here is an excerpt:

Ramachandra Mangaraj was a zamindar - a rural landlord - and a prominent moneylender as well, though his transactions in grain far exceeded those in cash. For an area of four kos around, no one else's business had much influence. He was a very pious man, indeed: there are twenty-four ekadasis in a year; even if there had been forty such holy days, he would have observed every single one. This is indisputable. Every ekadasi he fasted, taking nothing but water and a few leaves of the sacred bnbasil plant for the entire day. Just the other afternoon, though, Mangaraj's barber, Jaga, let it slip that on the evenings of ekadasis a large pot of milk, some bananas, and a small quantity of khai and nabata are placed in the master's bedroom. Very early the next morning, Jaga removes the empty pot and washes it. Hearing this, some people exchanged knowing looks and chuckled. One blurted out, "Not even the father of Lord Mahadeva can catch a clever fellow stealing a drink when he dips under the water." We're not absolutely sure what was meant by this, but our guess is that these men were slandering Mangaraj. Ignoring their intentions for the moment, we would like to plead his case as follows: Let the eyewitness who had seen Mangaraj emptying the pot come forward, for like judges in a court of law we are absolutely unwilling to accept hearsay and conjecture as evidence. All the more so since science textbooks state unequivocally: "Liquids evaporate". Is milk not a liquid? Why should milk in a zamindar's household defy the laws of science? besides, there were moles, rats, and bugs in his bedroom. And in whose house can mosquitoes and flies not be found? Like all base creatures of appetite, these are always on the lookout for food; such creatures are not spiritually minded like Mangaraj, who had the benefit of listening to the holy scriptures. It would be a great sin, then, to doubt Mangaraj's piety or unwavering devotion.

First Published: Feb 25, 2006 18:34 IST