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From East to West: Narrating traditional Indian stories

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And Gazelle’s Leaping” by Sudhin N Ghosh.

Published: 2017

ISBN No: 978-93-86338-22-8


Pages: 207

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Limited

Price: 299

Cradle of the Clouds” by Sudhin N Ghosh.

Published: 2017

ISBN No: 978-938-6338259

Pages: 288

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Limited

Price: 299

The Vermillion Boat”  by Sudhin N Ghosh.

Published: 2017

ISBN No: 978-93-86338-58-7

Pages: 313

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Limited

Price: 299

The Flame of the Forest”  by Sudhin N Ghosh.

Published: 2017

ISBN No: 978-9386338549

Pages: 280

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Limited

Price: 299

The series is a reprint of a lesser known but an important writer (in league of Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao), Sudhin N Ghose. His major literary achievement is his inter connected tetralogy of novels And Gazelles Leaping (1949), Cradle of the Clouds (1951), The Vermillion Boat (1953), and The Flame of the Forest (1955) which records the life of the protagonist, a nameless orphan narrator from early childhood to his early manhood when he realizes the ultimate goal of life.

All events and incidents in the novels portray a realistic and gradual development of the protagonist. The nameless narrator is addressed, in The Flame of the Forest, by Myna as Balaram as he plays the role of mythical Balarama in the ploughing ceremony in Cradle of the Clouds. the tetralogy traces the narrator-protagonist’s development through four phases – childhood, adolescence, university experience, and confrontation with the world, that coincide in many respect with Ghose’s experiences of growing up. The settings in the novels, the description of the Santal village in the Penhari Parganas (Cradle of the Clouds), and the Chandernagore scenes and family history (The Vermillion Boat) also suggest that Ghose wrote from the personal experiences. They reflect on themes of clash between the individual and societal norms, a conflict between generations, isolation from society, a search for identity and a spiritual or religious crisis. These autobiographical fictions of the narrator’s journey to selfhood is counterpoised by provide intricate design of myths, allegories, supernatural episodes, legends, extravagant situations of comedy that offers insightful development of the theme of the novels. His novels provide interesting insights into the imperialized version of imagined nation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

The first novel, And Gazelles Leaping, presents the narrator’s childhood phase, it divided into three parts. The first part, ‘The Last Village’ deals with the narrator’s study in a kindergarten run by Sister Svenska in the Rani Nilmani Estate, a small village near Calcutta. The kindergarten is unique as it presents a model of cosmopolitanism and diversity united under the imperial Queen represented by Sisten Svenska. The village is described as that which has survived unchanged for more than a hundred and fifty years in the midst of sprawling suburban Calcutta. The narrative surrounds the impact that inherited village tradition and a cosmopolitan kindergarten had on the young narrator. The second part, ‘The Greatest Evil’ shows the protagonist’s triumph over evil with the help of his pet animal. The third part, ‘In Quest of Urvashi’ reveals the central figure’s growth, his time to leave kindergarten and his search for Urvashi, the quest for sublime beauty which shapes his life.

The second novel of the tetralogy, Cradle of the Clouds covers the period of his early life between leaving the school described in his earlier book and his departure for Calcutta to join the University. The drama of his story is supplied by the failure of the monsoon to break at its fixed season and the consequent fear of famine. It weaves events from fourth century BC to contemporary politics to accounts of the picturesque Santal villagers to Hindu mythology to explain the perspective of a young Indian boy and his experience of what he finds a strange Indian traditional world. In Cradle of the Clouds, the location shifts from Rani Nilamni’s Estate to the protagonist’s native village as he returns to stay with his aunt Mashi-ma.  The novel opens on the village square under the peepul tree, the narrator has spent his school years in his own village and now he is leaving for Calcutta for the teacher training diploma and the whole village gathers to give him a warm send off and loads of advice regarding the evils of the city. Written in the form of story within a story, the novel like the first one is divided into three parts – the red valley, blue hills and Balaram’s plough. Ghose describes the superstitions of the villagers and the sense of alienation and loneliness that the protagonist feels in the first novel is retained. The same is beautifully explained as the protagonist wonders what the message in Gita of unconditional duty would mean, since he does not know what his real duty is. The tension between the rural urban and development versus tradition is dramatically portrayed through the opposition to the construction of a dam to provide relief during famine. The novel focusses on the psychological trauma of negotiating with competing ideologies of the superstition, simplicity and spirituality, political activism and its pseudo rationality. The ploughing ceremony where he gets the name Balaram is an interesting moment as that is the time he is closely integrated with the village community as well as feels embarrassment as he has been robbed of his birthname. The theme of alienation is deepened and the tension remains unresolved.

In the third novel, The Vermilion Boat, the protagonist enters the fragmented space of modernity represented by the city of Calcutta. He becomes further alienated as he is introduced you modern civilisation where his individuality understood through the collective experience of the community becomes impossible. He falls in love with his Latin teacher Roma and the experience of sexual awakening mystifies him to the point that they become nightmarish. Like most of Ghose’s pre-modern spaces the temple too faces the threat of getting engulfed in modernity. There he feels reconnected with tradition and the world of story tellers he had left behind. The pujarini introduces him to the myths and legends of the temple and with this visit; the protagonist starts his journey back from the modernity of isolated existence, haunted by the meaningless chaos of anamorphoused images and personal nightmares, to the world of the storyteller where the mysteries of personal experiences are explained through fables and folklores.

It is however in the fourth novel The Flame of the Forest that the theme of ‘return from modernity’ is more fully expanded. The protagonist, now in search of a vocation in Calcutta, meets Myna the kirtani (literally one who performs devotional songs) who had participated with him in the ploughing ceremony in Penhari Pargana. She was part of the community that had claimed him Balaram in his native village, and in this last novel she appears again to integrate him within the traditional community. Following an invitation by Myna to come and listen to her kirtans, the protagonist again finds himself sitting amidst a community of listeners as he had sat as a child. The mystery of these twice-told tales lies not in their novelty but in their very repeatability because with every repetition individual listeners are reconnected with the shared tradition of the community. However, as in Cradle of the Clouds, this moment of integration too is linked to events that ultimately lead the protagonist away from the community. In this novel, the withdrawal movement is initiated when the protagonist meets among the group of listeners an amateur photojournalist eager to interview the kirtani for an American weekly called Life-in-Technikolor. The protagonist himself subsequently finds employment in this journal as a contributor whose job is to present ‘traditional’ India to culture lovers in America. Whereas in the earlier novels he had occupied an isolated position within the community as an exiled individual, in this novel he comes to occupy the ambiguous space of a native informant who is both situated inside the community as a listener and outside of it as a mediator and narrator and of traditional society for metropolitan audiences. Though superlative in style and imagery Sudhin Ghose’s four novels can be read as a part of burgeoning industry of mass-manufacturing an exoticised India.