Book Review: “That Bird Called Happiness: Stories” by Nabendu Ghosh (Speaking Tiger)

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Review: Anjana Basu


That Bird Called Happiness: Stories
Nabendu Ghosh
Speaking Tiger
Rs 350

This book of short stories has been brought out after Nabendu Ghosh’s death – while he was alive, he was apparently against their publication, possibly because he was reticent. Now, his daughter, journalist Ratnottama Sengupta has brought together this collection translated by herself and other members of the family to celebrate her father’s birth centenary.

For those who are familiar with Nabendu Ghosh’s film scripts – he worked with the director Bimal Roy and scripted classics like Devdas, Sujata and Bandini the quality of the stories will come as no surprise. They deal with the well-rounded characters one has come to expect from the films, set against cinematic settings, like the backdrop of the moonlit night and the bridge in the Fifth Raga, or the sunset in Lights, where one can imagine a camera at work because it is filled with so much detail.

The characters are all carefully fleshed out, no matter how great or small a part they play. Each one has something quaint about it and captured in settings like friends getting together to exchange reminiscences at a railway station and ending up discussing the true nature of love, or in a home where everyone spies on the loving couple who has just taken rooms. They deal with begums come down in the world and beautiful heroines and characters from the world that Ghosh inhabited, though there is the one set among the coconut palms of a tropical island off the coast of Japan that is narrated by a ghost and tells the story of paradise lost and violence gained.

Mostly, however, Ghosh writes about everyday life and details like newly tailored blouses which raise suspicions of a love affair. Not everything is what it seems on the surface and love is a fairly complicated subject – in Lights for example, set in the world of Mumbai cinema with the tantrums of a beautiful heroine who hides her love from herself in order to torment her husband, or in The Fifth Raga where a voice binds a spell and destroys. Ghosh believed that no one was inherently evil but circumstances made them so.

Most of them are tales told by a third narrator rather in the style of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee and the classic short story writers, observations of behaviour. However, despite being set in different times, all the stories have some kind of insight to offer to today’s peer groups – even if it is only the fact that the casting couch was always there in Bollywood.

Sengupta keeps her translations simple, without over-ornateness so that what comes through is the intention behind the story. Her aim was to familiarize non-Bengali speakers with stories that would otherwise be out of reach and so open up the world of literature and, in this case, her father’s works to new generations.


Anjana Basu, Kolkata
anjanaorama@gmail.com

 

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