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The Way Home

The Way Home is a selection of fourteen classic short stories from Bengal.

india Updated: Feb 10, 2006 18:08 IST

The Way Home
edited by Aruna Chakravarti
Penguin Books India
Price: Rs 295.00
Pages: 282
ISBN: 0144001063

The Way Homebrings together in one volume fourteen stories representing the very best of contemporary Bengali short fiction.

Showcasing some of Bengal’s finest writers at their creative best—Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay and Rajshekhar Basu, Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay and Ashapurna Devi—these stories deal with a myriad human themes that are at once individual and universal. From ‘The Brahmin’, Tarashankar Bandopadhyay’s treatise on greed, gluttony and tragic human experience, to ‘The Fugitive and the Stalkers’, Sunil Gangopadhyay’s trenchant tale of violence and retribution set in the days of the Naxal movement in Bengal; from Samaresh Basu’s harrowing look at poverty and its degrading effect in ‘The Crossing’ to Narendranath Mitra’s lyrical take on the impact of triple talaq on Muslim women in ‘Sap’, the collection evokes different lifestyles while reflecting problems and issues with which we can all identify.

Sensitively translated, the stories in The Way Home effortlessly convey the lyricism and imagery of the originals while providing a riveting insight into the works of acknowledged masters of the genre.

Here is an excerpt from the first story, Rajshekhar Basu’s ('Parashuram’) “Anandibai”:

Seth Trikramdas Karorhi, proprietor of a chain of business houses, was sitting in his Delhi office, signing cheques, when the orderly came in and left a card on the table. M. Zulfikar Khan, Sethji read, glancing out of the corner of his eye at the gilt letters. ‘Ask him to wait,’ he said. Then, gesturing to the orderly to leave the room, Trikramdas went back to his cheques. Minutes later, after the secretary had left with a sheaf of papers in his hand, Trikramdas rang the bell. ‘Send the gentleman in,’ he commanded, pointing to the card.

‘Adaab Arz,’ M. Zulfikar Khan greeted Trikramdas from the door. ‘I’m coming from the Intelligence Bureau, Sethji.’

‘Oh! Sethji’s face fell. ‘Is it something to do with the income tax again?’

‘I don’t know about your income tax. A very serious charge has come to the department.’

‘Against me?’

‘Against you.’

‘Why? What have I done?’

‘You have married three women—‘

‘Is that all?’ Trikramdas laughed in relief. ‘That’s no crime. I’m a Hindu. I can marry a hundred women if I choose. I don’t have to restrict myself to four like you.’

‘Hai! Hai!’ Khan Saheb exclaimed, waving his hands in despair. ‘You’ve learnt to make money. Lots of money. But that’s all. You don’t keep track of what’s happening in the country. Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs can have only one wife at a time. The law was passed recently and –’

‘What are you saying, Khan Saheb?’ Sethji cried our, thunderstruck. ‘I had no idea there was such a law in the land! I do business, Khan Saheb. Big business. Ask me about licenses and taxes – I have them all on my fingertips. But this… what you’re saying is impossible! I simply don’t believe it. My uncle, Seth Harchandji, is having a wonderful time with his two wives. There’s no charge against him.’

‘The case is quite different. He had married both women prior to the passing of the law. But you – you’ve married your three quite recently. Prepare yourself to face trial and conviction, Sethji. You’ll have to pay a hefty fine. You may even be imprisoned for as long as ten years.’

‘Siyaram! Siyaram!’ The old man’s jowls shook with fear. ‘What am I to do now? Is there no way out, Khan Saheb?’

‘You’re an elderly man and respected in business circles. We wouldn’t like to embarrass you. I give you one month’s time to sort out the problem.’

‘How much money do you think –?

‘You’ll have to get rid of two wives by the end of the period and keep only one. How you tackle the job and how much money you spend on the transaction is your headache. I can’t help out in any way. As for…’ Khan Saheb coughed delicately and cleared his throat, ‘… the understanding between you and me… that is quite another matter. We’ll take it up later. At leisure.’

‘Ho Ramji! Ho Parmatma!’ Trikramdas struck his forehead with the palm of his hand. ‘I’ve married one according to traditional Hindu rites, one by the rites of the Arya Samaj and one through a civil ceremony. Which one can I set aside?’

‘Don’t worry, Sethji. All you need to do is shell out a few lakhs. Buy two of them off with hefty sums. Get them to sign declarations that they are not your legal wives – only partners in pleasure. The rest will be easy. We at the Bureau will hush up the matter. But there’s no time to lose. Get yourself a lawyer as fast as you can.’ Rising to his feet, Zulfikar Khan added, ‘I’ll take my leave now and return a week later. Adaab!’

Trikramdas Karorhi was a little over fifty with a marital career graph that was strange – to say the least. Like most other men he had one wife till only two years ago. She had died, suddenly, leaving him inconsolable and unencumbered, besides, with the responsibility of half a dozen children. Unable to bear the burden of her loss, he had married Anandibai three months after the tragic event and then two others in rapid succession. He had, however, kept the fact of his last two marital ventures carefully hidden from friends, relatives and Anandi."

First Published: Feb 10, 2006 18:08 IST