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Walk Down History

N. Kamala

By Jajabor. Translated by Alokojjal Banerjee
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 184, Rs. 295.00


Vignettes is the English translation of Dristhipaat, a Bengali novel published first in 1946, penned by Binay Kumar Mukhopadhyay whose nom de plume, Jajabor, apparently means, as this reviewer found out, ‘a person whose status in society is lower than of a homeless’. The choice of pseudonym is intriguing because of what it means and an explanation of the term in English and the choice of this pen name would have been most welcome.   Vignettes is that rare account of recent history that brings into play an England-returned Bengali journalist protagonist with a fine sense of the momentous times he is living in laced with a biting sense of humour. Set in 1940s Delhi, this purported travelogue, according to the blurb, is supposedly a collation of letters written by the said journalist to a female friend with due editorial changes to maintain confidentiality. Spread over fourteen loosely-knit chapters the book opens with the arrival of the journalist Minisahib in New Delhi to cover Sir Stafford Cripps on his (in)famous mission to garner support for the British war efforts from the Indian political leaders of the day. His landing in the blistering heat of March at Willingdon airport, now Safdarjang Airport, sets the tone for the rest of the book. Comparing his twin engine Douglas aircraft to the legendary Pushpak of the Puranas which ferried men to the heavens, the narrator remarks, ‘The final destination of modern aeroplanes are located on earth, but a lack of skill on the part of the charioteer (the pilot) may land its passengers at heaven’s door any moment’ (p. 9). His sense of wonder at the speed of air travel—only seven hours to reach Delhi from Calcutta—is offset by contrasting it to the unrivalled pleasure of travel by train with its commotion and companionship and compares it to ‘popping Vitamin C pills instead of savouring juicy oranges’ (p. 11).   His arrival and settling into Delhi life and the various trips around the capital and its environs are only loosely chronological. The narrative is more of a travel across not realy geographical spaces as much as historical, as the narrator intersperses his comments and description of contemporary Delhi with large asides on the various histories and myths that have left their mark on this cpital city, which had always been the capital in olden times except for the early British days. His excursion to Okhla ...

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