In 1945, Bengali novelist Sunil Gangopadhyays father, a teacher, moved the family to Calcutta from their village home in East Bengals Faridpur district in the hope of a better life. The famine of 1943 had crippled the economy of Bengal. As a little boy, Gangopadhyay would witness the communal violence sweeping the streets of Calcutta in 1946, ahead of Independence.
The images of riots, famine, loss, exile, stayed with him and found an echo in his books. Two of his most famous novels, Sei Samay (Those Days) and Pratham Alo (First Light), are historical epics, tracing the arc of the Bengal Renaissance from around 1840 to the turn of the 20th century. They are peopled with men and women who had played a role in the birth of the nation.
Rakta (Blood), Gangopadhyays short novel from 1973-74, which has now been translated into English, starts off as a personal story centred on a photograph, which rekindles memories of displacement and the violence associated with colonial times and Partition. In between there are relationships to handle, revenge, murder, and a search for roots, all posing that eternal question: can we forgive, forget and move on from past traumas?
Its 1965, and Tapan, a Bengali who has studied nuclear physics at Berkeley, vows to never return to India. His father and uncle were killed at the hands of the British and he doesnt want to live in the past. Yet he finds himself going home for a wedding with a stopover in London, where he meets Alice and comes across a photograph of their fathers. This triggers off a nightmarish memory. Clarity comes from his grandmothers wise words: Dont think about those past things ever... Dont hold on to your grievances.
This sense of forgiving is missing in Tapans generation. As Alice tells him: You and I might forget our mutual hostilities, but until our two countries come much closer, a closeness founded on equality, the people of the two countries will never be in harmony with one another. But that time hasnt come yet... Gangopadhyay holds a mirror to the problems of migration, racial discrimination and prejudice.
This slim novel resonates even after five decades, as the world closes borders and becomes more divisive.
Blood; Sunil Gangopadhyay, trs Debali Mookerjea-Leonard, Juggernaut, 499