The winner of the Munin Borkotoky Award for the year 2017 is Dalim Das’s Hari Jodu Madhu. A compilation of 13 stories, it is a book that successfully reflects on the myriad aspects of life. The range of Dalim Das’s stories is impressive – from nostalgia to the problems of contemporary issues to societal alienation, the stories touches upon all these issues. The eclectic collection brings together stories written about various issues in different styles. Each story is unique even though there may be some connecting thread.
The first story in the compilation is Bilioman which talks about the impact of rapid urbanisation and a life so compartmentalised. Bhava Kalita is someone caught in a time warp, of times which were simpler. He feels out of place when he is unable to keep a pace with changing times. Somewhere there is a disconnect. The story also touches upon the problem of insurgency and how it impacts the lives of people caught in the crossfire between the state and the insurgents.
The setting of the second story Chana is a village. It shows the multiple levels of exploitation that Chana’s family have to go through. Chana, a simpleton, is often made to work for one and all. His uncle is forced to take up arms when jobs are unavailable and he loses his life in an shooting. The third story moves away from Assam to South Extension of Delhi. Its title is South Extension Aru Anyanya Kathakata and it hints upon the insecurities of migrants who leave the state looking for work. Their dreams and aspirations are often left unfulfilled in the metro. The gap between the development of the city and the city dwellers is stark and is shown in the story.
The next story Shubh Bibah reminded me of Premchand’s Dusra Bachpan. It shows the attitude of nouveau rich towards an older generation. Dalim Das’s stories tell many more stories within. This story points to intergenerational gaps where the grandfather is not much wanted because of his rustic mannerism. Young boys forced to take up catering still put their conscience over money when they return the fees paid by Bhadreshwar Das who didn’t treat his old father well.
The fifth story is Eta Purona Pukhuri: Mrityu Xomporke Eti Toka. It shows how a person grapples with the question of imminent death. How he moves towards his death everyday because of a fatal disease. With a tinge of magical realism, the story revolves around the truth of life’s temporariness. The sixth story Anheri Churuni is a sharp comment on poverty, lack of health services for the poor downtrodden. A madwoman is a notorious thief known for stealing anything she can. But when she is seen sticking the needle of a used bottle of saline in the emaciated hands of her brother, her pursuers return in silence. It shows the systemic exploitation of the poor.
The seventh story Banalata is a story of a love lost in the mundane nature of daily life and how the protagonist looks for it like a madman in the form of a letter amidst the heap of old newspapers. The eighth story is Bowariparar Bagadambar Karjalayto: Eti Xadhukotha and is written in the form of a satire. It is an excellent commentary on the present system of employment. The red tapism, bureaucracy and institutionalised corruption that a government employee faces in his offices are reflected beautifully in this story.
The next story Jeevan Xomporke is a person’s experience of life, love and loss. The next story Pita Putra reflects what industrialisation does to the lives of people who depend on traditional mode of livelihood. In this story the nexus between rich industrialists, police and social elite ruins the life of a poor fisherman. He is in fact killed in police custody and the person responsible is haunted by his death. This in turn impacts his own family.
The twelfth story Aami starts with portraying the picture of a rat race for jobs, employment amongst friends. But goes on to say what such accomplishment does to the ties amongst acquaintances. The alienation that people feel comes home when the friends hear that someone close to them committed suicide after they did not respond to his calls for help.
The last story is Hari Jodu Madhu. This is the title of the compilation as well. The story shows two very crucial things – the caste based discrimination which continues to haunt our society and the possibility of social mobility. Hari, Jodu and Madhu were children who belonged to the backward community. When they went to the house of an upper caste to watch TV, they were humiliated for stinking. One is reminded of Gopal Guru’s edited volume Humiliation and his essay which shows that in the dominant discourse, filth is often equated with people belonging to certain castes and has nothing to do with hygiene. But twenty years later, the tables are turned and these young boys find themselves at respectable positions.
Nostalgia, the alienation that accompanies a liberal capitalist society are dominant emotions in the stories. The good thing about Dalim Das’s stories is that they are very layered so that readers from all kind of backgrounds have certain takeaways. The author has succeeded in maintaining the sanctity of contexts. The references used by the author also shows his own range of research and his capability of transcending a story in a local setting and connecting it to larger questions. The depth as well as expanse of the stories makes them worth reading. Almost every story reflects the harsh reality of present day world and leaves the reader with much to ponder upon.