Stories that sensitively chronicle the miserable plight of the majority of India's population.
A civil servant by profession, Anita Agnihotri has been involved in various kind of rural development programmes and has seen the real face of India: the India which is not shining as claimed by the purveyors of mindless consumerism and unbridled free market culture, but is stained with the grime of poverty, the scourge of brutal inequalities, and the acne of underdevelopment. The reflections of this dark underbelly can be seen in many of Anita's stories. She sensitively and beautifully chronicles the plight of a major chunk of the country's population for whom ‘ deprivation' is a part of daily life and two square meals a day is a luxury. The portrayal of the predicament and idiosyncrasies of individual characters has also been done very subtly and effectively. The use of metaphor, at times, appears to be excessive but can be ignored keeping in mind the fact that it is a translation from the Bangla originals and the ornamental style of writing is acceptable in Indian languages.
Seventeen opens with a story “The Crater-Lake” where ‘a brother-and-sister visit the unique crater lake that their dead, estranged mother had written to them about in her letters'. At first look, it appears to be an ordinary story but once you get deeper in to it you get the larger picture where you see the sufferings of a woman and a mother. But why she has to suffer? Because she has committed a sin of being a woman in this man's world (Yes, it is still a man's world, isn't it?). The author has repeatedly used the meteor as a metaphor to describe the dilemma and the agony of a wife and a mother and, of course, of a woman, and this has come out quite well.
“The Shadow War” is a tale of the devastation caused by the so-called development where narratives move matter-of-factly. You see here the kind of price individuals and the society as a whole have to pay for the game of crony capitalism. Elsewhere in this book, there is a boy who decides to take care of the girl whom he had defaced years ago by throwing acid. In this story, you can't decide whether the boy is a villain or a hero or a mix of both. In fact, throughout the collection you will find that most characters are difficult to bracket as heroes or villains. In another interesting story, “The Principal”, a middle class employee is not paid salary on the pay day and his life turns topsy-turvy. There are 13 more such stories and each of them has different set of characters and different settings but is equally engaging and insightful.
The translator Arunava Sinha has been doing a great service to the Bangla Literature —and a great favour to the readers who can't read Bangla — by translating many of the great Bangla authors in to English. Like his previous translations, he has succeeded in conveying the nuances of Bangla language and retaining the flavour of the original prose while rendering these stories in English.