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An Open-ended Tale


Himadri Roy

THE BRONZE SWORD OF THENGPHAKHRI TEHSILDAR
By Indira Goswami Translated and Introduced by Aruni Kashyap
Zubaan, Delhi, 2013, pp. 132, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXXVIII NUMBER 4 April 2014

Thengphakhri ‘Baideo’ is the first Indian woman to be awarded the position of Izardar (or Tehsildar) by the contemporary British regime. She was given the responsibility to collect taxes in Mahan, Sunkush and Burhidiya, all belonging to a landlocked place popularly known today as ‘Bodoland’—on one side Bhutan and Sikkim, on another Coochbehar, while on the other sides Ahom and Bijni kingdoms ruled this small land. She appears to be a loyal servant of the British kingdom, but as the story moves ahead there is a sense of a leader being born that leaves the book open ended. This is a collection of ten short stories by Goswami, one single story portraying ten different episodes of Theng-phakhri’s life.   ‘Suez Canal’ carries an undertone of emotional affinity between Thengphakhri and her boss, Captain Hardy. The beauty of the landscape and the river Brahmaputra is camouflaged in such a manner that Thengphakhri from the very first scene proliferates into the reader’s mind as an epitome of beauty. The thought of turning her back on her boss seems unimagineable to Thengphakhri. But when her present boss, Macklinson Sahib delivers the news of Hardy’s death at the Suez Canal, Thengphakhri starts pondering about the cause of his death. The hint of something conspiring against Thengphakhri’s life opens here, although throughout the story she comes out as a very controlled woman introvert in nature, and dedicated to her profession.   ‘Three Mysterious Women’ is about women being tortured and oppressed by the white rulers. As Goswami mentions, ‘they had come to provide sexual services for the British officers’. When Thengphakhri notices that these women didn’t belong to her land, that they weren’t Bodo women, she has another sense germinating in her mind about her boss ‘touching’ the body of these women, as she looked into Macklinson Sahib with a sororal feeling as Bodo people believed that one might get lovers and wives anywhere in this world, but ‘a brother born from the same womb will never be found elsewhere’.   ‘The Voices of Queens Burnt Alive’ unfolds a different practice. When four Indian soldiers under the British Government come to meet Thengphakhri, a different kind of patriarchal tradition forced upon women in India is unravelled. They reveal that sati, a cruel tradition, has been practiced in their areas for generations. ‘The Bones and Flesh of the Forefathers’ unveils the cruelty ...


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