Birendra Kumar Bhattacharyya’s “Blossoms in the Graveyard” Translated by Mitra Phukan from Assamese | Niyogi Books

Jnanpith Awardee Birendra Kumar Bhattacharyya has told the story with a fine understanding of all the issues involved, in a non partisan way. Through fiction, it deals with events and issues of recent history. The echoes from that time reverberate across the entire subcontinent even today, making this a work of contemporary significance.

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
That I guard I do not love.
-W B Yeats.

Mehr’s search saw no plain sailing especially in the paradise which was lost. The land which imbibed the blood of warriors, and corpses of shaver, surprisingly sprouted a flower emanating commitment and miracle to it but was anosmic to its own fragrance. Gasping continually in the air of flares and explosions, it flourished mid-way in the glooms to witness that on which others blindly rely. Mehr, undoubtedly, has the soul of that flower. At the time of war, she thrived hard to save her paradise from getting ravished by its drooling enemies, crouching day in day out in front of  ‘Khoda’ to be her redeemer; but her silent Khoda leaves her completely vacuum in the end, making Mehr realize that her existence depends on exertion and not on beseeching. The unanswered plead stiffens her heart, impelling to select the path of self- reliance and defense. “Blossoms in the Graveyard” by Mitra Phukan, presents Mehrunnissa (Mehr) as an antonym of destructions. Even the effort of Birendra Kumar Bhattacharyya, in translating the story delivered from the womb of tragedy, was not void of the purpose it intends to profess.

Much like the diary of Anne frank (“The Diary of a Young Girl”) which recites the immature desires and hardships of a teenage girl, “Blossoms in the Graveyard”, essays the confrontation of lass trapped in the political turmoil. The novel permeates the fragrance of Mehr enough to linger in the sense, providing more to it than just pleasure. Both the narrations voice over the fact that in spite of conquering the miseries and vanquishing the threats on humanity, it is hard for men to find out what goes in the soul of a woman! Surely, the aforementioned novels speak about the wars and dilemma of the civilians annihilated, abused, and grilled in their own land but did not halt their talks till there.

Bangladeshis had run out of luck. Like others Mehr and her family too, decides to leave Kalihati and clutch Assam for safety. First time when the eye of a Robin Babu, the narrator of the story, captured the sight of Mehr, an unnatural ripple in her behavior puzzled him which remained unsolved throughout their meeting. However, in the end, after knowing his host (Mehr) in and out his former hesitations took the face of pride. The flashback technique which serves Mehr’s story in an earthen platter, take us to the time when Bangladesh was witnessing the brutality of “kill and burn mission”. There was no conflict commenced for religion, but there was conflict conducted against humanity. Religion, in fact, played here an important role. Bangladesh, in the novel, symbolized purity, sanity, holiness; it symbolized Mehrunnissa, her tolerance, delicacy, and grace.

In the historical records, one of the immediate outcomes of this ‘Liberation War’ was the increase in the number of rape victims. Mitra Phukan wittily brought out the ‘rape issue’ in her novel with an attempt to show the actual timidity of any woman. Devil’s incarnated Pakistani soldiers picked their way up to seize Bangladesh, mutilating its people and taking their women as the “booty of war”. Finding no way out half of the country’s population were forced to take refuge in Assam and the remaining were struggling for independence supporting Mukhti Bahini and its factions in waging war against them. Mehr, her Xoruma and Abba Jaan were startled when they learnt about the deplorable situation of the natives, assembling themselves to leave the place as soon as possible. But the fate had another plan. The untimely attacks by the foes took Mehr’s family away, made her to hang solely between the devil and the deep blue sea.

A woman robbed of her pride was and is still considered a “shame” to the society. After the demise of her Abba jaan, the only ray of hope in Mehr’s life was Habib, a guerilla whom Mehr wished to marry. But getting polluted by the hands of Shaitans (a Pakistani), she even lost that last hope of spending her last breath with her acquaintance. Yet amongst the molested lot of women suffering from the feelings of intense shame and humiliation, Mehr was lucky to have Habib by her side, though not for long.

At a timid hour, oftentimes the initiatives taken by women go underestimated and their sacrifices unnoticed, probably because they are thought to be confined till kitchens. Mehr and Najma’s stand to protect their honor from getting tarnished by the enemies was a subject of much laughter and astonishment for men. Abba jaan shockingly reminds Mehr of her duty, Xoruma taught her about woman’s responsibility, Sita was presented many times to her as an example of an obedient wife but none like Najma and Amina trained her how to disable the eyes which gaze lustfully. Coming under the influence of women like Najma and Amina gave Mehr the strength to count on herself as a savior and shed her past dependency.

As a climate fiction, “Blossoms in the Graveyard”, brings to us the world increasingly altered by the actions. The presence of holy characters might help in changing the vision but the pain is universal. In it there is an understanding of secularism, amalgamation of different religion,    mythological references, and patriotic songs. Leaders like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Yahya Khan, too, got their needed space and talks of politics were recorded unbiased. But for a proof, the perception of Amina on war echoes the phrase that has a power to make million think –

“If women ran the world we wouldn’t have wars, just intense negotiation.”

The novel ends on a vague note, away from the answer, giving Mehr a new fresh field to blossom.



Ginnie Singh (Columnist, Reviews) is a scholar from Dhanbad, Jharkhand with her major in English Language and Literature.

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