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Questioning Norms

Soma Banerjee

By Subimal Misra Translated by V. Ramaswamy
Harper Perennial, New Delhi, India, 2010, pp. 139, 199.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 12 December 2011

The Golden Gandhi Statue from America is a compilation of the early stories of Subimal Misra, an anti-establishment writer who has successfully managed to steer clear of mainstream publishers since he started writing in the 1960s. A self-professed follower of Jean-Luc Godard, Misra is heavily influenced by the montage-style of filmmaking that takes the audience from one scene to the next without any explanations. The reader is left with vivid, painstakingly accurate scenes that need to be put together to see the big picture. Although this style of writing renders each piece more intricate, readers unfamiliar with Bengali culture may find it difficult to follow the author's train of thought while drawing their own inferences. However, as with all other works centred on oppressed humanity, each story has a certain element of universality which brings us to another impor-tant aspect of Misra's writing: Misra writes to disturb, to 'stab people with (his) pen'. He gets under the skin of his characters to crack open the carapace into which we, aka the middle class, recede when faced with difficult situa-tions and uncomfortable questions. His works make for onerous reading simply because they seem to lack the leaven of lighter matters. They smack of polemical writing as he assiduously attacks the various accepted norms which have allowed poverty to thrive at the lower levels in society. To appreciate Misra's approach, we must remember that these stories were written during the period when millions of displaced persons from Bangladesh (erstwhile East Bengal) ousted the Congress to establish a long period of CPM's governance in Kolkata. Such glaring iniquitous scenes from those days are meant to convey something. Subimal Misra, however, remains an honest writer-he depicts facts as they are. He does not take sides by either glorifying or vilifying his characters. He puts all that is held to be correct through a scanner of rationality and humanity, leaving it to the reader to piece it all together in a way they deem fit. He compels the reader to revisit events and circumstances that most individuals have trained themselves to ignore or obliterate from memory, thanks to social conditioning and the deep-rooted, animalistic survival instinct. His writings deal with a vast range of issues-oppression of weaker sections, petty crimes, delusions, commoditization and exploitation of women, etc. Though the commoditization of women is a common feature around the world, it is the added burden of ...

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