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Holding A Candle To The Mirror

Madhumita Chakraborty

By Ashapurna Debi . Translated by Prasenjit Gupta
Hachette, India, 2015, pp. 300, Rs. 399.00


Ashapurna Debi is one of the first Bengali women writers to bring to the fore the condition of Bengali women in the larger part of the 20th century. She was known as one of the first Bengali writers to write realistically about the life these women faced within the four walls of the house, in the midst of complex family relationships, petty jealousies and other experiences. The stories in this collection The Matchbox, translated from the Bengali by Prasenjit Gupta are part of this same mosaic, delineating the emotions of the ordinary middle class Bengali, whose outward lives seem devoid of sensationalism, to the extent that everyday is like the previous one, or even the next one, yet these same lives contain within them a psychological and emotional terrain that is far more complex than the external image. Ashapurna Debi was born into an affluent Bengali family, in which her matriarch grandmother was totally against female education. Debi’s own tryst with education happened primarily through hearsay—listening to her brother’s tutors during their lessons—and a love of reading inculcated in her by her mother. Like most of Debi’s novels and short stories, this collection reflects the inner world of the women in our society. Each story is not just an exploration but also a working out of an inner complexity, usually revealed in a dichotomy between the characters’ outer facade and their inner world. There is no open rebellion against the many injustices against these women; however, each story brings to the fore a different aspect of Bengali family life, as well as the different hues of people we see on the streets. For instance, in ‘Wealth’, Debi deals with the issue of affairs, considered absolutely legitimate and normal for many like Srikumar, with his sister-inlaw silently smirking at the plight of her elder sister-in-law who has to live with such a man. The twist however lies in the ending of the story. In ‘Brahma’s Weapon’, the unemployed husband wishes his wife to meet her ex-lover and plead with him for a job; instead he is left gobsmacked at the turn of events when his wife asks for and gets the job herself! As the author says, ‘The woman who is forced to set fire to her own private, lonely world—why should she feel any compassion when she launches arrows of fire at another’...

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