Short Stories Books

Creatures of blood and bone: Review of Anita Agnihotri’s ‘A Day in the Life of Mangal Taram’

Reading the 14 stories in this collection can be an exercise in gathering beautiful anthromorphic metaphors.

Sample this: “The road, well-fed and shapely, pushes its way into the village at one end and comes out from the other.” And this: “Shyamananda Road going all the way, suddenly changing its mind, had taken on the alias of Bakulbagan some time ago.” The book, translated into English from Bengali by Rani Ray, abounds with such parallels.

There is a story for everyone in this collection: a languishing artist, a failed writer, an anxious mother, a dutiful son, an abandoned child. Anita Agnihotri crafts universal characters that evoke raw emotions, even if the settings are unfamiliar.

In a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad called translation a “kind of blood transfusion”, that makes “a clear kinship between men of different cultures, countries and ages”. I felt this kinship in the form of a lump in my throat as I read about little Polu trying to reach his wailing mother with a stick taken out of a broom on the day of his father’s funeral, or Bhagyi reasoning simply that those who had parents slept on cots, while those like her who didn’t, slept below. Agnihotri’s children are dauntingly real, and you feel their pain.

Agnihotri’s non-linear narratives work for the most part. She does not introduce her characters but makes the reader piece together the personalities and circumstances. Physical spaces in these stories are more than spatial settings — they foreshadow events and reflect emotional states.

For instance, a dilapidated auditorium mirrors failed aspirations, the oppressive heat from a sculptor’s furnace melts pent-up emotions, a kerosene lamp throws up shadows of an eerie past and the “watery skirt of a brimming Bhargavi” speaks of a thriving trade.

The author cleverly plants these clues as premonitions to the impending climax, which is served hot, cold or warm.

pragati.kb@thehindu.co.in

A Day in the Life of Mangal Taram; Anita Agnihotri, trs Rani Ray,Niyogi Books, ₹395


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