Saturday, April 30, 2005

Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay's language of love

Some writers have a real feel for the conversations of lovers - playful, elliptical, given to flights of fancy. One of the protagonists of Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay's novel Waiting For Rain (first published in 1986 in the original Bengali, and recently translated into English) is Manju, a young woman who narrates every alternate chapter in the novel. Here is the beginning of one of those chapters, in which we find Manju in conversation with her fiancee Adri, who works in another city and comes to visit her every two weeks. The chapter begins with Adri speaking:
'Not like that. Turn around a bit more. Don't turn your face away so far. Relax your body.'
'You're too finicky. Is this better?'
'Yes, much better.'
'Then tell me,"You're so beautiful".'
'You're so beautiful.'
'Hee, hee. Not like that. Say it with more feeling.'
'Why should I? I'm not Adri.'
'You're not? Then who are you?'
'I'm a mysterious and enigmatic man.'
With a teasing smile on my face, I said, 'Oh, is that so?'
'That's so. Now dance. Remember, you have to dance with such frenzy that your clothes fall off, okay?'
'You're so demanding. I'll try.'
I spread my arms in the air, arched my body backward, and put my right foot in front of me.
The silver bells on my feet jingled in rhythm.
I pirouetted once and stopped.
'You're doing great.'
I said, 'That wasn't any good - you couldn't really have liked it.'
'But isn't that the proper way to dance, the way of the purist?'
I said, 'It may be so, but it's not the kind of dance where the clothes fall off. There has to be something radical. Here, let me show you. There's a kind of dance that's as elemental, as wild, as passionate as a thunderstorm - like the cosmic dance of Shiva.'
'Isn't that dance bound by rules, too?'
'No way. Shiva's dance was immense, apocalyptic - after all, he was dancing to mourn his dead wife, Sati. How dare anybody rein him in with the measured beat of a tabla?'
'Are you Shiva, then?'
'No, but I, too, have a crazed, demonic dance hidden within me. Do you want to see it?'
'Go ahead.'
This is charming, but the import of this scene changes when we realise a little later that there is no one in the room besides Manju - the conversation is a make-believe one. It is not then a scene of light flirtation as it initially appeared, but of yearning, a way of expending time that feels empty without Adri. Indeed, one could read this scene through Ibn Arabi's notion - which I first came across in the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red - that "love is the ability to make the invisible visible and the desire always to feel the invisible in one's midst."

Adri does indeed appear a little later, weary from his journey and concerned because Manju has not written to him for days, and the lovers have a slight tiff. And the juxtaposition of the two scenes leads us to yet another insight: how radiant is love in the world of the imagination, when one can carry on a conversation from both sides, but how difficult it is to keep it up unbesmirched in real life, when there lies, waiting to be crossed, the gulf that separates even two spirits naturally attuned to each other.

1 comment:

avik said...

Sirshendu is my most fav author. I don't know what is the bengali name of this novel, but looks like i haven't read it yet.

I can suggest two names, "Parthib" and "Jao Pakhi". If you can find translated versions do read it. And you will know, exactly how good is Sirshendu in the 'language of love'. In "Jao Pakhi" (Go, Birdie), where the protagonist (Somen) expresses his fellings to his beloved (Rikhia is the name as i remember), is written with so much love and it's so true in its imagery, it's guaranted to make your heart make a little dance inside.

And thanks for this beautful writeup.