Of Women, Outcastes, Peasants, and Rebels: A Selection of Bengali Short Stories

Of Women, Outcastes, Peasants, and Rebels: A Selection of Bengali Short Stories

Of Women, Outcastes, Peasants, and Rebels: A Selection of Bengali Short Stories

Of Women, Outcastes, Peasants, and Rebels: A Selection of Bengali Short Stories

Synopsis

Until now the large body of socially focused Bengali literature has remained little known to Western readers. This collection includes some of the finest examples of Bengali short stories--stories that reflect the turmoil of a changing society traditionally characterized by rigid hierarchical structures of privilege and class differentiation.

Written over a span of roughly ninety years from the early 1890s to the late 1970s, the twenty stories in this collection represent the work of five authors. Their characters, drawn from widely varying social groups, often find themselves caught up in tumultuous political and social upheaval.The reader encounters Rabindranath Thakur's extraordinarily spirited and bold heroines; Manik Bandyopadhyay's peasants, laborers, fisherfolk, and outcastes; and Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay's rural underclass of snake-charmers, corpse-handlers, stick-wielders, potters, witches, and Vaishnava minstrels. Mahasweta Devi gives voice to the semi-landless tribals and untouchables effectively denied the rights guaranteed them by the Constitution; Hasan Azizul Huq depicts the plight of the impoverished of Bangladesh.

Excerpt

Bengali literary prose emerged in its contemporary form in the early nineteenth century. Around the middle of the century, Iswarchandra Vidyasagar and Bankimchandra Chatterjee among others perfected the idiom of modern secular writing. Bengali literature, however, has a much longer history, beginning with a lyrical tradition many centuries old. Historians have traced the origins of two of the streams of this tradition to the Buddhist scholarly works and hymns (charyagiti) written in the tenth century by the Bengali acharyas, who formed the bridge from eastern India to Tibet, and to the Brahmanic Sanskrit literature, which reached its peak in Bengal during the twelfth century. the third and most pervasive stream existed in the early medieval (tenth- to twelfth-century) folk literature, in the narrative poems known as mangalkavyas; these were based on popular religious myths and stories that were current during the pre-Brahmanic mercantile era in Bengal long before the Turks came and set up their sultanate in Delhi. the Buddhist and the Brahmanic Sanskritic literary influences, which came from outside Bengal, and the folk lyrical tradition of the mangalkavyas converged in the fifteenth-century poet Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda, a book of romantic lyrics on the love of Radha and Krishna. Although Gitagovinda was written in Sanskrit, its tonality, rhythm, and idiom were inspired by Bengal’s indigenous tradition of literature in the popular dialects. the Vaishnava padavalis, lyrics celebrating the love of the gods in human terms, descended directly from Gitagovinda, though their tone and images tended to be more devotional and less erotic. in the course of time, the Vaishnava padavalis and the mangalkavyas became the two most important elements in the evolution of a Bengali literary style and idiom based on folk dialects and Sanskritic infusion (and later on Persian and Arabic infusions). a final development, which made way for the secular social orientation of Bengali literature, occurred in the early nineteenth century, when the language was hammered by a generation of socially con-

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