Alka and other stories

Goutam Das has a way of making ordinary lives seem extraordinary. His characters are the kinds of people one runs into every day. But in their hearts they nurture dreams of breaking boundaries. A banker gives up his job to pursue his passion of reading poetry. A clerk takes time off to record the magic of sounds; nothing deters him – neither the freezing cold, nor pelting rain, nor the scorching heat. A barren woman abandoned by her husband wishes to be a mother. A young woman crippled with pain is determined to walk again. . . It is the flame of their spirit that lights up their lives, much as the glow of a sunset often makes an ordinary street turn magical. Two things stand out in these stories. The author’s empathy with the struggles of common people and his love for rural Bengal, which he describes so vividly. One wants to travel with him and celebrate the spirit of ‘never giving up because happiness awaits you at the next turn’.

Goutam Das’s Alka and Other Stories adds a new dimension to the short story as an art form. Most collections of short stories work by the interplay of different voices. This one offers the more satisfying rewards of a novel: unity of tone and a richness of recurring details that creates its own texture. All the stories take place in parallel worlds, not so much remote from ordinary life as hidden within its surfaces: secret alleys that afford unexpected – and unsettling views of men and manners. The author’s portrayal of women characters calls for particular attention – Salim’s mother, Alka, even Maitreyee, the invisible wife of Ritobrata. All their stories have a wonderful surreal quality and a sombre, compassionate tone.

I am also quite impressed by Ratna Jha’s dexterous handling of the language, especially in achieving smooth culture transfer in places where indigenous Bengali expressions do not have equivalent idioms in English. One has to be truly bilingual to be able to pull off such a successful transfer.

Former Director, National Book Trust, India
Former Editor, Indian Literature (Sahitya Akademi’s journal)
Currently, Editorial Director, Niyogi Book

Though these stories are mostly restricted to the domestic sphere, the author adds titbits of Bengali socio-cultural scape, the widely prevalent economic divide and political rivalry in hinterland claiming innocent lives in the background.
Perfect for weekend or ‘de-stress’ reading, in genteel and compassionate storytelling, this book’s a nice bunch of stories.
DIVYA SHANKAR (review on Amazon)

Goutam Das

Goutam Das (b. 1957) is a postgraduate in Bengali literature from Kolkata University. After serving in the State Bank of India for 27 years, he took voluntary retirement in 2007 to pursue his abiding interest in reading and writing, which is reflected in his short story ‘Wish’. He is a prolific writer of Bengali short stories, many of which have been published in leading Bengali magazines. His hobbies include travel and photography.  

Ratna Jha

Ratna Jha (b. 1954) is a doctor by profession. She served in the Indian Air Force for 20 years and took premature retirement in 2002. At present, she works in a charitable clinic in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. This is her third work of translation from Bengali into English; the other two being Abanindranath Tagore’s Rajkahini and Jarasandh’s Louha Kapat.

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