Friday, November 23, 2012

Fiction and poetry in The Caravan for November

Here are my selections for fiction and poetry in The Caravan for November: the Bengali writer Narendranath Mitra's story "Ras", translated by Arunava Sinha, and four poems by Anupama Raju: "The Time-Eater", "On Borders", "The Memory Maker", and "Nightless Night". Here is a paragraph about "Ras":
Marriage and economics have never been independent of one another. The relationship between the two in the affairs of men and women is memorably dramatized in this story by Narendranath Mitra, one of Bengal’s greatest short-story writers. And the narrative time of the story and the arc of the romances within it are marked, too, by the cycle of the seasons in a rural economy, as seen through the life of the protagonist, Motalef, a tapper of palm-trees. The “ras” of Mitra’s story is not just the juice of the palm trees which give Motalef his livelihood, but also the “ras” of human passion, that longing to possess what is beautiful that maddens human beings and leads them to singe the lives of those around them. In order that he may accumulate the bride-price to marry for love, Motalef can see no other way out than to marry first for wealth; within this marriage, he enjoys a devotion and companionship that he later spurns for the lure of youth and beauty. Mitra’s story has an irresistible force and amplitude, but perhaps it is never more beautiful than in the long interlude between the two winters, or palm-tree seasons, covered by the events of the tale. Here, Motalef is seen pampering his pretty new wife and burning himself out over numerous unremunerative tasks, waiting for the next high season to come along and his labours to yield riches again through the transformation of palm-tree syrup into jaggery by his wife’s hand. Mitra fills his story with symbols and metaphors rooted in the world that it describes; when, in the closing scenes, Motalef comes to a realisation of how he has been trumped by his own scheming, the two pots of ras he takes on a final journey stand unforgettably for his defeat as they once stood for his triumph. “Ras” was memorably adapted to film by Sudhendu Roy in 1973 called Saudagar, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Nutan, and Padma Khanna. 
Arunava Sinha's translation of Mitra extends a vast oeuvre of translations from Bengali literature by Sinha in the last decade, including fiction by Sankar, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Bankimchandra Chatterji, Banaphool, Dibyendu Palit, Buddhadeva Bose, and Anita Agnihotri.

And here are some notes on Raju's poems:
The poems of Anupama Raju enact a world of metamorphoses and secrets, and their movement is continually toward a blurring and breaking down of walls and boundaries, whether physical or conceptual ones. In poems like ‘The Memory Maker’, every line throbs with the forces of shape-shifting; as soon as one transformation has been absorbed, we are catapulted into the space of another. One of her poems here is called ‘The Time-Eater’, and its most memorable image, coiled into the final pair of lines, is that of the human being and time feeding off one another before the stronger side wins the battle. But Raju’s taut, aphoristic style shows us how a poem, too, might be thought to be a kind of time-eater, working nimbly with syntax, rhythm and space to deliver concentrated effects in small shots of time.‘Nightless Night’ and ‘The Memory Maker’ are from ‘Une Ville Un Lieu Une Personne’, a poetry-photography collaboration between Raju and the French photographer Pascal Bernard.
The Fiction & Poetry page for The Caravan is here. If you'd like to submit original, unpublished work to The Caravan, (short stories no more than 5000 words long, or five or six poems) please email me at

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