|Peeping through the Keyhole
Almost every other story, in Bangladesh, is always based on a tragic theme poverty, unemployment, the battered life of a widow, the superficial attitude of our society or the war which rages over property issues in a family and goes on for eternity. But it is not very often that we find a bit of absurdity or wit fused in with these typical issues faced everyday by families living in a Bangladeshi village.
'Shinduker Chabi' by Manju Sarkar (cover art by Dhrubo Esh) is a short novel that revolves around the Talukdar family in a village in the northern part of Bangadesh, their ancestral home 'Borobari' and the great Talukdar himself, who dies right in the beginning of the novel. The villagers are in despair; who will now take the place of the great Talukdar, the one they would run to with their daily problems, the one who owned acres and acres of land, provided employment to the jobless and the one who represented the people of this village to the outside world? Moreover, to make matters worse, shortly after Talukdar dies, the wealth that he had been saving inside an iron vault for decades is stolen. Soon enough, the news of his stolen wealth spreads all over the village.
Sarkar brings to life the inner desires of the characters in the book. He portrays the feminist side of the Talukdar wife, the forbidden sexual pleasures that Ratan desires and the suspense that surrounds the case of the stolen wealth. A Muktadhara publication, this book hit the stands in the Boimela 2009. Manju Sarkar's humour, which is slightly brazen, spices up the story which would otherwise have been yet another saga of a family trying to survive after a major shock. Even though 'Shinduker Chabi' has all the ingredients of a classic tale about a village in Bangladesh with a zamindar house falling apart after the death of the head of the Talukdar family, a weeping Talukdar wife, villagers mourning for months together and the growing bitterness amongst the family members over issues related to inheritance of land and property, the novel highlights on aspects quite unusual, such as the thoughts and deeds of the mysterious Aalo the maid servant, Ratan the slyest and the youngest of the Talukdar sons, Umed Ali, Talukdar's trusted aide and Shahana, a distant cousin.
Through his witty language, Sarkar makes fun of journalists, a profession that Ratan admired at one time and also his constant failure to do something useful in life like his other siblings. His dream, to bring back revolution by becoming a journalist, shatters when he realises that journalists never get paid in Dhaka. After several unfruitful tries to boost his ego, including exploring his sexual fantasies as well, Ratan decides to move back to his village home with his wife and child after his father's death, only to be snubbed secretly by the villagers. As days go by, he begins to see himself as the next Talukdar, lending a hand to the poor in the village, building a modern Kindergarten school (where his wife would work as the Principal) and also involving himself in the local political scene.
Though a very small part in the novel, the Talukdar's wife plays a significant character in the novel, shocking the villagers as she refuses to shed tears after facing first bit of trauma caused by her husband's death. Undergoing a sudden transformation, the Talukdar wife turns gutsy and declares a month long mourning for her husband in the village. This month-long mourning would include renting speakers and microphones so that the mowlanas' recitations of the Holy Quran would reach every nook and corner of the village, following a grand dinner. Moreover, she suddenly feels free like a bird, let go after being caged up for years, and begins to dispense off her husband's family wealth to the poor and needy in the village.
'Shinduker Chabi' can be found in Bangla Bazaar in Dhaka at the Muktadhara outlet and also other major bookstores around the country.