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

By Kalpana Bardhan | Go to book overview

Variation on “The Witch”:
An Excerpt

Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay

In our village, near the east end of our house there was a large pond with tall palm trees around it. A 45-degree line from the pond toward the northeast would be pointing to the hut of Swarna the witch, Shawna dain, as the folks said. It was at the very edge of the village, in a large barren field that lay between two clusters of huts—one the fishermen’s and the other the Bauri untouchables’. A large banyan tree stood in the field, and under that tree was the one-room hut of Swarna. There were no more huts after it, only the barren plain of sandy dark dirt that stretched on. Nobody ever went near that edge of the village, except on the way to cremate the dead, stopping by the waterhole in the middle of the barren stretch to do the last rites. The spot was littered with the remains of the mats, mattresses, and pillows used for carrying the dead body and with the clay pots and half-burnt sticks and twigs used for the ritual of touching the mouth of the dead with fire. The big leafy banyan tree stood on the other side of the waterhole. Nobody dared to go near the tree even in daylight, and at night the tree looked like a huge solid presence of dense darkness against the dark sky.

Swarna used to spend her time sitting at her porch, looking at the tree.

At least, that is what we thought she did.

The green paddy fields were at the far end of the barren land, away from her. A witch does not, cannot, tolerate any lush green nearby.

Shawna dain was thin like a stick. She had two full rows of strong teeth and small slits of eyes with pupils the color of catechu. The look in her eyes was strangely fixed, with no emotion, dry like the stones on a dried riverbed.

This excerpt is taken from a narrative sketch on the same theme as the preceding story and is
also titled “Daini.” First published in the literary magazine Meuchak (Calcutta, 1951) and re-
printed in Tarashankat Rachanabali, vol. 7 (Calcutta: Mitra & Ghosh Publishers, 1973), 503-6.

-124-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 1
  • The Living and the Dead 51
  • The Punishment 62
  • The Girl in between 72
  • Haimanti 84
  • Letter from a Wife 96
  • The Witch 110
  • Variation on "The Witch"- An Excerpt 124
  • The Unlucky Woman 128
  • A Tale of These Days 135
  • The Old Woman 148
  • A Female Problem at a Low Level 152
  • Paddy Seeds 158
  • Dhowli 185
  • The Funeral Wailer 206
  • Strange Children 229
  • The Witch-Hunt 242
  • Giribala 272
  • The Daughter and the Oleander 290
  • In Search of Happiness 299
  • Through Death and Life 304
  • A Day in Bhushan’s Life 322
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