Ashapurna Devi’s Trilogy and the Feminine Style of Writing Chandreyee Niyogi Reader, Department of English Jadavpur University

Many years ago I had the privilege of reading a translation of Ashapurna Devi’s presidential address at a conference in Jadavpur University. Playing the same role of Ashapurna Devi’s unofficial public secretary (somewhat like her own way of representing herself as the “stenographer of Mother Saraswati”), I must acknowledge at the beginning of this paper that there is very little that can be said about Ashapurna’s style that she had not herself anticipated, and offered as astute critical observation on the strengths and limitations of her own achievement in comparison with the styles of her admired novelists. So in many ways I will be speaking the words of Ashapurna Devi herself, applying my translation skills to the best of my ability. Let me explain why I think that the technique of Ashapurna’s trilogy was adumbrated as a consciously feminine style of writing. The term ‘feminine style of writing’ is no longer used to delimit the space of a woman novelist to the kitchen or to denote her pathetic addiction to culinary vessels over the more soulful varieties of human experience. Rather, in Ashapurna’s trilogy (Pratham Pratisruti, Subarnalata, and Bakul Katha), we can locate a long deliberated literary strategy and method of introspection which await their reading in the light of the French Feminist theory of l’ecriture feminine, and that is what I will try to do in this paper. The advantage of this kind of reading is that the form and content of writing need not be separated out for analysis. What Ashapurna had observed about the emergence of global trends in literary ideas at a given time in history would also hold true for her innovation in style. “Sitting thousands of miles apart”, wrote Ashapurna Devi, “more than one intellectual succeeds in establishing the same truths about life on the basis of the same shared values....This unbroken consciousness of literature is like the light and the wind – it permeates the currents of thought over all the world, and throbs with the whole world’s visions and beliefs.”1 In the decade between 1964 and 1974, during which these three novels of Ashapurna Devi were published, the western world was witnessing the rise of the new left and a second resurgence of the feminist movement. “Even in this country, the roots of humanity have not changed since the age of the Mahabharata....Everywhere, and at all times, society is ruled by men,”2 remarked Ashapurna when her contribution to literature was officially recognised. It is impossible to overlook in this paradoxical statement her profound awareness of the modernity of her time, which Ashapurna was able to capture in her critique of the universality of patriarchal norms. Evidently, she had not set out to write a mere history of the generations past. She wanted to represent women’s aspirations in a traditional society, and the agony of encountering those obstacles to self fulfillment, which could only have been perceived as keenly as Ashapurna did in her trilogy at a turbulent moment of the reawakening of feminist consciousness.

Literature itself was for Ashapurna “an endless commentary on an unending war”—no matter how it was defined or what external form it came to assume. it is as rough and ruthless.9 But in Ashapurna’s own writing. traversing the conflicted terrain of failed romance.6 But Ashapurna’s trilogy was also undertaken as an account of women’s nameless intellectual struggles – against the hostility of their environments. who sent Ashapurna this ambiguous ‘blessing’: Sharatbabur Shesh Proshner uni Kamalmani Ek nombor jhagrate. had been concerned only with the union and separation of men and women in love.. Nor is it possible for it to be otherwise. The same self-assurance with which she had once warded off her mother-inlaw’s request to read and write ‘religious books’4 is heard in her later assertion that “Literature today is as swift. as well as against their own instinctual drives. society. observed Ashapurna. untrammeled. so she thought it was the silent protest of her own anger.”5 Under such circumstances. or criticized Ashapurna’s tendency to make suffering the singular theme of her fiction. and social mentality.8 (Of Sharatbabu’s Shesh Prashna she’s the Kamalmani –/ that belligerent shrew at the head of the company. and an eloquent advocate of her own indictment of gender discrimination. Satyabati does not strike us as a woman of flesh and blood.3 But Ashapurna refused to be swayed by these compliments and allegations directed towards her gender. the trilogy that she had initially planned as a “history of the inner chambers (antahpur)” would inevitably turn into an alternative history – a history written for women by a woman. / she’s put down her stirrer to swing the scabbard over all) Ashapurna Devi did acknowledge that Saratchandra Chattopadhyay had been more perceptive than most male novelists in portraying the inner lives of women. and tumultuous as life is in the present time. The histories of domestic life written by men.Contemporary male writers had long admired the masculine boldness of Ashapurna’s style. In the sharpness of her skilled reasoning. Banaphul. the language in which women express their authentic being is . some of them had been shocked by the unfeminine cruelty in her way of writing. / a rebellious female in swampy Bengal. in the dazzling brilliance of her intellect. tarka shiromani Syantsente Bangladeshe bidrohini nari Khunti chhede dhorechhen masta tarabari.7 In her personal life Ashapurna had not been much of a rebel. Among those who could not quite swallow the hypercombativeness of Satyabati (and Ashapurna) was the celebrated short-story writer. Perhaps it was this which made Pratham Pratisruti her favourite volume of the trilogy. pain and frustration that was incarnated as Satyabati. Ashapurna wanted it to be a woman’s documentation of domestic life.. which were perennially changing the shades of the times. angry and bitter as the modern age. the remarkable heroine of her first novel. Ashapurna had conceived Satyabati as the instrument of her fierce battle. and in her unearthly transcendence of all feminine desires and weaknesses – Satyabati is really an argument embodied. but she was going to give her readers a different history of the processes of construction and destruction in the domestic sphere.

until it gets mingled as the particles of pollen dust in the tales of the more-than-ones (“renu renu kore mishiye diyechhe anek-der galper modhye”. Through the progression of events from one novel to another. So we are explicitly warned against looking for any continuity of narrative development or personal evolution in Ashapurna’s trilogy. These stories have now become the spinster writer Anamika Devi’s “hundreds of sons and daughters” (p. as we might find in Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s famous trilogy which is primarily a bildungsroman of Apu. because she will not be confined within or measured by the standards of her conservative upbringing.13 Subarnalata is the only volume in the trilogy which Ashapurna calls “a life-story.” Short vignettes of that life story appear in some of her autobiographical reminiscences. In Bakul Katha. Perhaps it is this immediacy of experience conveyed so magnificently in Subarnalata that makes the volume particularly endearing to the common reader. Bakul – we are told – has been deferring the writing of her own story year after year.12 Shortly before the publication of Pratham Pratisruti Ashapurna had written and published some short stories around the characters which reappear in her second narrative – Subarnalata.far more incisive. Ashapurna’s three women protagonists are ceaselessly decentred. In terms of the serial order of their publication they may appear to be a saga of three generations set in the background of certain historical shifts in social attitudes to women – as Ashapurna herself was fond of observing. however. these stories were published in the form of a novel named Aangshik (A Partial Account). and yet as a woman more familial and domesticated than Kamalmani (the protagonist of Saratchandra’s novel The Last Question). and this is what strikes us as the structural dis/continuity of Ashapurna’s trilogy. we are forbidden to find any trace of the writer’s personal experience in her participatory observation. 226). We can try to explain the continuity in the three volumes of Ashapurna’s trilogy in several ways. The “contradictory winds” in the family14 which a child begins to apprehend early in life are sometimes the most unforgettable impressions of the gender war that a child of either sex learns to contend with. which was written around the same time as Ashapurna’s. Its protagonist. 101). we must also remember that Ashapurna thought of reconstructing the narratives of an earlier generation of women only after she set out to recollect the domestic struggles of the woman she had most closely observed in her childhood – her mother. Much later. the articulation of their intellectual striving far surpasses Saratchandra’s authorial compassion in the mordant universality of its appeal. Nor can we read Ashapurna’s trilogy altogether as a family saga in the way that we do Gajendrakumar Mitra’s trilogy (Kolkatar Kachhei. Upakanthe and Poush Faguner Pala). they are “the portraits of three women in the backdrop of three ages”. Having conceived the character of Satyabati as a radical critic of nineteenth century social practices. Ashapurna then went on to reconstruct the ‘historical credibility’ of her social settings. .10 Ultimately it is the familiar historical background that gives Satyabati’s character its timeless radiance.11 But if we consider the trilogy as a premeditated magnum opus. p. like ‘Chhelebelar Utsabe Borodin’ (‘Christmas among our childhood festivities’).

the authorial self mediates between the personal gaze of a daughter embarrassed out of her wits. is above all the consciousness of a matrilineal inheritance. Bakul is not so much a witness to the events as she is a self-circumscribed side character. philosophical beneficiary of their hopeless resistance. fall back upon the perspectives of both Bakul and Anamika Devi to get her prerogative of interpretation justified. occurs in the overarching authorial self. Bakul merely serves as a frame which contains the narrative flow and separates its artificial continuum from the dangerous flux of life.Viewed in another light that might focus on the narrative strategy of the trilogy. No less precarious is the role of Anamika Devi herself. and the perspective of an older woman speaking with the social authority of her secure position within the patriarchal establishment. A transition from one age. Not only does she assume a studied distance from Bakul – her personal and familial alter-ego – but she also disappears behind the mask of the anonymous authoress who claims to have recovered the lost diary of Bakul that Anamika did her best to suppress. And in Bakul Katha the authorial self has clearly transcended the limits of her earlier protagonists’ personal struggles. to a retrospective gaze. and whether it does not take away the message of protest in Ashapurna’s style. or even Bakul the displaced protagonist of the third novel. In representing Subarnalata.’ If the third novel. Altogether. in that it is never critical or judgmental in its interpretation of even the most eccentric actions of Satyabati. however. Bakul Katha. and she must. The retrospective connection of the three narratives. Unlike Apu. if not more matured. makes us wonder how Bakul could have become so submissive. yet represents her alter ego as a tamed. This may suggest Ashapurna’s own awareness of the difficulties for women attempting to rewrite history as the biographies of other women.15 So there is another aspect to the fragmentation of narrative voices that we find in Ashapurna’s trilogy. This act of sympathetic retrieval. we can see at once that its unity of narration is achieved by making the third generation exponent Bakul the single narrator of three narratives which ostensibly unfold. the inevitable continuity in the lives of their protagonists. The authorial self that represents Satyabati in Pratham Pratisruti adopts the perspective of transparent reverence and detachment of a historian attempting hagiography with some difficulty. repeatedly in the third novel. This connection between one novel and its sequel. does not derive from their individual incompleteness. does not necessarily give the anonymous writer the authority to use its materials at her will. from where she can repeatedly claim with impunity that Subarnalata is not mad. Indeed. the author. the capacity to make a distinction between the stories of her narrative and the facts of Bakul’s records is not within her grip at all. In Ashapurna’s trilogy we may find a resonance of what the Black feminists have described as ‘maternal narrative. and their sequence is not so much a structural imperative as “the necessity of binding the ideas of a particular age with those of its immediate future”. is not the same as Bakul the narrator. it also suggests that Bakul’s successful career as a writer is indebted to . but it also shows how many different narrative voices jostle against each other in the process of arriving at a cohesive ordering of experience as narrative. But Anamika Devi. and from one novel to another. as Ashapurna herself observed. Ashapurna’s narrative strategy in her trilogy is a matchless exposition of the collective identity of the feminine self. as Ashapurna elaborated in her narratives.

Confined within the four walls of her home. is not quite an evolutionary unfolding of woman’s consciousness. Bakul has acquired the art of dispassionate writing only because the lessons were learned by her maternal progenitors who never knew how to attain it. p. which can either be seen as a new accrual of efficient adaptability or as a sacrifice of earlier colossal traits. When she steps outside the house on her own initiative for the first time to go on a pilgrimage. And with the necessary diminution of her ego. Matrilineal inheritance. But in Subarnalata Satyabati comes back from the dead in the epistolary advice to her daughter that for a woman it matters more to keep her family intact than to retain her human integrity. When Ashapurna began to think of writing about her mother whom she considered the greatest influence on her choice of a literary vocation. Bakul may be an acclaimed writer. Bakul tries to make an ineffectual return to the repressed desire of telling her own story at the end of the third novel when she knows that she has no woman successor to write it out. A great writer must aspire to be neither a man nor a woman in feelings. Satyabati’s father had taught her to be a human being before she became a woman. except that in Ashapurna’s novels it is fraught with layers of irony. Satyabati leaves her family to go back to her father because she knows that it is as difficult to be true to human ideals as it is for a woman to uphold them in her life. 128). but by the time she moves into a house with a south-facing balcony. but Sabita. Many years later. no matter how desperately she feels the need to write it. Bakul has ceased to be a valid protagonist of her own novel. A woman’s narrative is cyclical. she felt that she “must write first about the era that came before”. is also caught in the tragic compulsion to write her own story – just as Subarnalata burns with the desire to see her name in print. sheltered away from the unkind gaze of interlopers. Although Bakul had promised her dead mother that she would write her mother’s stories anew. the cyclical life history of Subarnalata draws attention to yet another feature of feminine writing. her husband Prabodh contrives to bring her back even before she has boarded the train.the doomed resistance of her mother and grandmother. Ashapurna’s third generation protagonist seems to have internalized the lessons of Virginia Woolf – that a woman can never be a successful writer as long as she is a “goddess of anger” (Pratham Pratisruti. she is too spent to cherish its openness.16 The compulsion that informs the feeling that she ‘must write’ is reminiscent of the French feminist imperative. Their painstaking compilation of the episodes of their lives in diaries and notebooks. Women do not. It adds to the structural significance of the novel Subarnalata that its middle episode has no other relevance in Subarnalata’s life except that her God “suddenly brought a new wave to float her away for a few days at least. Subarnalata longs to view the world outside. they can not. and they will not. and did not send her back to the kitchen beside the big pot of rice (p. is brought to an end by the same chastising fate. Conscious of this acquired forgetting of the vitally personal trajectory of her growth. 472). as Ashapurna suggests.” Inevitably. such a novel can begin and end only with Subarnalata’s death. A woman cannot write her autobiography. after all – in the same way that Anamika Devi reads in the story of human progress an insidious cyclical plot. it involves sudden mutations. write . the colourless housewife who wants Bakul to get her writing published. They are consumed in the fire of the women’s sublime and senseless egotism which exhausts itself in the face of patriarchal vengeance.

Shampa has inherited the spirit of Bakul’s predecessors. “In the casual respite of negligence and carelessness. it carries all the imprints of a woman’s uncertainty and confusion about the worth of women’s writing. therefore. But in trying to evade that trap.” (Subarnalata. Anamika Devi is not allowed for a moment to forget that she is a celebrity. All these instances serve to justify Bakul’s decision not to write about her self. not only about the accolade. To remind us of these hurdles in the way of a woman’s writing. and be opened in a sequential order” to the reader’s gaze? “Subarnalata can only be glimpsed in the tattered pages of an unbound exercise copy” (Subarnalata. and. and only after she has given her best to the family. “what is so special about Subarnalata. 287)” merely signifies a woman’s harlotry in attemping to write her life in her own words. And they don’t remember women at all because they have never read their works. many episodes in Subarnalata’s life got lost (forever). the method of narrative expansion in Subarnalata is deliberately halted and erratic. p. Shampa forfeits the right to represent Bakul. It is not the same as taking one’s life in one’s own hands. but with her decision to be reconciled to her bourgeois parents (while her aunt Bakul watches the scene of reunion with the anguished feeling that Shampa will henceforth be lost to her). In Bakul Katha Ashapurna makes use of women’s journal excerpts and fragments of poetry. to be written down in a notebook. That is to say. p. she is capable of bridging the gap between tradition and modernity. 219) Besides. like them. can only be attempted by women. When Ashapurna was asked by an interviewer why women writers of earlier generations are often forgotten. evanescently. p. 274) — occasionally. even though she is committed to memorializing the struggles of Shampa’s life. there is nothing in it that does not arouse the laughter of ridicule or pose a danger to the wellguarded privacy of her personal relations. a man who is otherwise attentive to his wife’s needs. monotonous (Subarnalata. to which she must respond by churning out an endless flow of lectures on demand. there will be no woman survivor to sing her gatha (heroic legend). intended only for intimate eyes.”18 It may be a little unfair to say that men never read women’s writings.” said Ashapurna. Namita decides to enter the public world as a showgirl because she has only taken account of the bad investments piling up in the ledger book of her life. suggests Ashapurna.17 Although her trilogy begins with excerpts from Bakul’s khata (notebook). 334. that her day to day entries in the diary should be preserved in a bound notebook. pallid. When her earlier work was admired for its masculine style. it ends with Bakul’s katha (the words of Bakul). Ashapurna replied. cannot bear to see her writing love poems or making entries in her diary. and leaves the reader with an untold hint that after Bakul. the very source of a woman’s autobiography is unremarkable. On the other hand. Parul’s husband.)” Or.autobiographies. Any significant reading of such memoirs. Bakul knows that there is a world of difference between her own words and Anamika Devi’s made-up stories – “those words which. but about an inherent anomaly in her power of representation. p. “It is the responsibility of men to commemorate writers. to uncover the depths that remain unarticulated by its authorial voice. Anamika Devi’s private life gets swamped with the celebratory advances of men. but what Ashapurna . are trivial. for to “paint up one’s own story in gaudy colours to make it look attractive (Bakul Katha. I think I observed the world with the gaze of a man. “Perhaps what gave them this idea was that in what I used to write earlier – the informing ‘I’ was a man. Ashapurna felt deeply suspicious. as Anamika Devi is perfectly able to do.

relentless force takes possession of an individual to achieve its own expression. one might say that Ashapurna’s style approaches Jane Austen’s in its wonderful modulations of argument and counterargument. transcending nineteenth century conventions of social realism with a magical touch that was entirely her own. Critics have often admired Ashapurna’s dialogic style of writing.”21 But Ashapurna steered clear of the tendency to emulate any of them. her paternal grandmother and great grandmother – before she can come into her own as a woman. was particularly skilled. and description. idiom. “which was never loose or slovenly in construction.e. compact texture of his novels. Ashapurna herself believed that “some overwhelming. On the face of it. which leaves a reader guessing about the agency of an utterance.might have meant was that they do not – and perhaps can not – read women writing in the way that women can. Again. this gesture may appear to be an emulation of the Hindu patriarchal rite of tarpan in which men have the exclusive right to commemorate their male ancestors. Ashapurna had praised its “faultless cohesion of idea. especially the observation of nature and scenic details. it establishes Ashapurna’a trilogy as a maternal narrative which addresses itself to women readers in a subtext that runs counter to the narrator’s declared ritual of reminiscence. i. a style of third-person narration which uses some characteristics of third-person along with the essence of first-person direct speech. Ashapurna was able to stretch the web of her words far beyond the narrative requirements of style. and to speak in many voices (and silences) about the irregularities as well as the social conformities of characters. Literature is its manifested form. Ashapurna had an unflinching awareness of the limits of her range. This permits the narrator to alternate between identification and detachment. The most remarkable thing about Ashapurna’s way of using it is the occasional conflation of social conversation with interior monologue. uncontrollable. She is not adept at the “kite-flying method” of letting out and drawing in the threads of a narrative. in which Bimal Mitra.e.”19 Like Jane Austen. But Ashapurna’s individuality in Bengali prose style lies in her extraordinary use of what is called the ‘free indirect discourse’ of psychological realism in European novels. But even without trying to step outside her known world. while the mothers of commemorating daughters appear to be possessed by a formidable inner strength that makes them the most unlikely victims of oppression – from the points of view of their husbands as well as mothers-in-law. Ashapurna’s trilogy is presented as the fulfilling of Bakul’s obligation to pay back the debts of her father’s foremothers – i. and even whether a remark is to be read as an utterance or regarded as a pointer to the silence that surrounds it. to her great admiration. Again. It is the lost subjectivity of the mother’s mother that animates the images of all the women worth remembering. Ashapurna avoids descriptive prose. But the narrative strategy of Ashapurna reveals its subversive intent when paternal grandmothers like Elokeshi or Muktakeshi are symbolically invested with the power of patriarchal authority and rites of oppression. without which a male novelist can hardly hope to achieve a masterpiece. Sometimes the narrator invites the readers to quietly and cautiously turn their ears to the inaudible sobs that .20 In her comments on the style of Gajendrakumar Mitra.” noting with approval the dense.

and the cultural imperatives that are ineffectually thrust upon her. In trying to recollect the memory of the mother. and repeatedly turn to him as the only silent listener to their complaints about the ways of men. in which a self-destructive rationality gets caught in the contrary senselessness of irrational social habits. be the ultimate appointee of patriarchal order. “The technique of telling the story is most important. The spinning of this web is literally enacted through Ashapurna’s performative utterances. at other times she directs us to their follies and excesses which only the reader is expected to understand and forgive.”22 But beyond this process of listening through reading (if we are readers enough not to be entirely arrested by the charm of her spoken words). He does not know how his unconscious mind directs his conscious being. Ashapurna’s heroines nonetheless find that they are indebted to him. Not even the narrator can jeopardize her social position to risk such dangerous empathy. the reader is provided with a rudder to steer through the unfathomed depths beneath the tempestuous violence of words. Despite. “Man is helpless not only against his environment. one protagonist devotes herself to the raising of a fallen woman’s daughter as a woman after her own heart (Pratham . he does not realize how he is incessantly spinning a web around himself to bring about his own entrapment. As Ashapurna observed about the defects of contemporary writing. we begin to see the distinct pattern of a web emerging in each of Ashapurna’s novels. an excess of sympathy between author and character would fail to produce such an effect. the spoken words in Ashapurna Devi’s novels are also constitutive of her exceptional style – for Ashapurna knew that there was a vast difference between a storyteller and a writer of fiction. What Ashapurna understood as psychology was more in the line of feminist theories of women’s writing.” she said in one of her interviews. for example. Deliciously colloquial and idiomatic.women suppress in their hearts. is spun out like an inextricable spider web. after all. including her allusion to the web-like structure of her narratives. Yet that God is for them an indispensable interlocutor. The playful God who rules over the fate of her female protagonists refuses to resolve their problems. where the protagonist is trapped in a cross movement of the insurmountable instincts of her nature. “because people are far better listeners than readers. but Ashapurna’s psychological exposition of characters is not based on the Freudian model as explicitly as in Manik Bandyopadhyay’s novels. It is only when they turn away from God in their moments of incomprehension that they discover their relationship with the earth. or perhaps because of the narrator’s satirical commentary on the characters. her protagonists have grown into the habit of conversing alone with God. Suspecting that God may. The entire narrative of Subarnalata.23 Ashapurna often claimed that her novels were psychological in their approach to human predicaments. Nor do they learn to sympathize with their mothers until it is too late.”24 The web of Ashapurna’s narrative often extends beyond the frontiers of the real to encompass a transcendental space of ironic incongruities. gradually poisoning and paralyzing the sensibility of the eponymous heroine. when that mother has become a shadowy presence beyond their grasp. but he is also vulnerable to the impulses of his own heart. Like Ashapurna. occasionally inciting them to entangle themselves even more hopelessly in their own behaviour patterns.

Ashapurna’s style. Anamika Devi makes it very clear that she has no illusions about the literary worth of the books that were burned to ashes. another discovers in the wife of her renegade lover a worthier object of love (Bakul Katha). “Look at that. When Bakul asks her sister Parul for her book of poems. employs metonymic images more freely than metaphors. Anamika Devi is cast into a sea of doubts when Namita. p. And yet her writing suggests metonymic directives for evaluating characters. literature. not only women. “Sometimes the events go out of my reckoning to keep the character right. on her determined journey out of the confinements of domesticity. as Ashapurna Devi herself observed. Namita’s death becomes a metonymic image of her absurd desire to become the subject of a novel. “Now that they are out of their cages. which means. 262). but all of society. are not the birds caught palpitating in a new trap set by the most omnivorous hunter? Is not the hunter called modernity – in the tinsel glitter of whose net. It is possible that I would have given exactly that kind of an ending to Namita in my novel. Parul rises to fetch it. when she suffers endless mockery and reprisals for her thoughtlessness. she is only concerned with the immensity of the loss.”25 Shortly after writing Bakul Katha Ashapurna Devi had alluded to another kind of web. 293)” Metonymic events also function as moral directives in Ashapurna’s novels. perhaps it is also a mocking reminder that her writing does not deserve any better print. She does not attempt to present the actions of her characters with an air of objective detachment. (Bakul Katha. Often the events that I have in mind change a lot. In Bakul Katha a common housewife sells her ornaments to publish a slim volume of her life’s works. art and civilization are .. to keep a character as I want it to be.. throws “all her life’s precious possessions into the fire” (p. nor does she offer any causal account of their moral progression. but finds that in the darkness of their ineffable communion the lights have gone out due to a power failure. Again. “That’s the symbol of my life and art! The lights went out!” (Bakul Katha. Sometimes I feel that I do not control them. they go their own way on a will of their own. p. How might Anamika Devi have concluded the novel if she had chosen to write about Namita? “Would I have broken her wings and thrown her down on a freeway or moorland? . and. like that of many other women. the metonymic events of a character’s life seem to have some logic of their own. 215) In the same way. The printer’s devil that laughs at her from the pages of cheap almanac paper is only a variation of the jests that God and her fate have always played on her. Was it because she had rejected Namita’s request to write a novel about her insignificant life that “Namita made up her mind to supply a plot that was more complicated”? “But will Anamika Devi sit down to write a novel with such a complicated plot? (p.Pratisruti). looks up the author who had refused to fictionalize her life. But the same event in Subarnalata is metonymically represented as the dreaded climax of a proud woman’s abjection.” Parul broke into a childish ripple of laughter. 155)” Anamika cannot evade the pangs of responsibility when she does come to know of Namita’s end. which are not imposed as binding upon readers.

and at the audacity of Subarna’s last words. and doing it with no affront to traditional Indian values even when the catchword of the day was ‘sexual liberation’. 34). Gajendrakumar writes: “With increasing age. but the insults and abuses heaped on Shyama were not one whit the less for that matter (Kolkatar Kachhei. for example. Shampa. In contrast. But inevitably as it seems to me. (p. What a sharp unbearable spasm in the stomach – it felt like someone was ripping the flesh off her entrails with a pair of pincers. It’s shocking. all the nerves of her sister-in-law Umashashi “applied in unison for a leave (p. In the mounting tension of the moment. Asked to define the limits of realism in literature Ashapurna had quietly observed: “What’s more real than the human body? But do we expose it uncovered to the eye of an observer?”28 It may be worthwhile to compare Ashapurna’s style of writing a woman’s body with Gajendrakumar Mitra’s way of writing the female body to avoid turning it into an object of the male gaze.” Ashapurna goes deeper into the terms of such mutual attachment between a husband who . complains to her aunt about men’s voyeuristic style of representing women’s bodies: “It seems that the men of letters can only see young men writhing with the agony of the age. anticipating another battle of wits with her sharp-tongued daughter-in-law. Ashapurna is able to transform the irritation of interrupted thought into the agony of a tortured body quite effortlessly in a description that fuses the brutalized mind and body of her female subject in Bakul Katha – both indiscriminately subjected to the social pressures of coercion: “Nothing more could be written. Muktakeshi was struck dumb” (Subarnalata. p. Just as it always does – dragging you by the hair from the depths of thought to knock you down in the open courtyard. 172)” When Subarnalata is about to deliver her first child she ‘curls up’ in pain but does not stop badgering her mother-in-law with questions about the efficacy of unsanitary customs to be observed at childbirth. The telephone shrilled. Gajendrakumar attempts what is undoubtedly laudable and difficult for a male writer – to write a woman’s body from the inside. Subarnalata’s labour pain becomes less unbearable than Muktakeshi’s anxiety. “Having pricked herself on a barb of the bamboo cane she was honing. 35). In Kolkatar Kachhei. Anamika Devi mildly rebukes Shampa for being “rustic. in Bakul Katha. outdated” (p. husband and wife grew more attached to each other to be sure. 14).” Nor did Ashapurna Devi’s ‘traditionalism’ stand in her way of engaging with the differences in male and female sexualities. although she may not have known the French feminist dictum of ‘writing the body’ and may not have intended it as an exploration of women’s sexuality. it’s disgusting – it simply sets my brain on fire!” Tactfully evading this charge to protect contemporary male writers. Ashapurna also fashioned a language to write a woman’s body in response to this ‘modernity’. which needs an external agency of reference (‘it felt like someone’) to validate his female protagonist’s experience of pain. we can locate Ashapurna’s departure from male practices of writing. 25)” The sensation is not sufficiently internalized in Gajendrakumar’s description. (p. p. But Ashapurna seems to have addressed this issue in her different project of writing the body. “After returning from outside Shyama fell prostrate with pain.struggling and suffocating?”26 Occasionally Ashapurna blamed the “irresistible impact of western lifestyle”27 for this malady. Here again. 107). but did anyone ever notice that young women feel it too? All that the literary men know is that women have anguishes of the body – they suffer no other pain.

The rhetorical questions directed to the reader in Ashapurna’s novels have an openendedness that leaves the reader free to interpret them as the author’s invitation to participate actively in the story.. except to wish that she were dead and her bones buried in the earth? (Subarnalata.. literature playing the role of “the second maker of destiny”29 cannot consciously substitute itself for God. The reader in a room that’s far away. Ashapurna forges a feminine style of writing in her trilogy by repeatedly soliciting the advice of the reader and keeping up an illusion of dialogue as democratic interaction between reader and author. Then why should the author pretend to an omniscience she never had to begin with? Ashapurna’s most successful technique of popular appeal also had a philosophy behind it. and a wife who is the mother of his three children – but in the prime of her youth and exceptionally desirable: “Let us leave unsaid those strange words of flattery that a lustful man can utter in the dead of night.wants to make love to his wife shortly after beating her. After all. . be attached to the man in the same way as he is to her. to which Ashapurna alludes in a riddle that may not be as simple as it looks: Lekhak thaken apon ghare Apon ghare pathak Dui nayake chalie jan adrishyo ek natak . But there is one behind the wings To whom they owe their mutual time.. after all. Yet these two heroes. Tobe achhen antarale Arek mahajan Abaha sangeeter dhara Dharen anukkhon Lekhak pathak dui nayakei Tanr kachhete rhini Jabab din to henyalitar Bolun to ke tini?30 (The author lives in a room of his own. all unknown. 60-61)” No one but Ashapurna Devi could have shown with such superb economy that a humiliated wife who consents to her husband’s advances in the privacy of the domestic space may not. especially by offering opinion about a character’s action or the possible outcome of an event. pp. Engage each other in an unseen play. For without him who might have played .. And what can Subarna do to resist them.

again. might it not be the publisher too? .Background music so sublime? Author and reader are both in debt To him who holds their interest fast. the unequivocal answer would be God. but from another point of view. For a traditionalist. depends on the attitude we bring to read Ashapurna Devi. Answer me this riddle straight. Can you identify him at last?) The answer.

lekhai janr jiban’. Aar ek Ashapurna. April 1972). Aar ek Ashapurna. 231). p. p. 1989).. p. 156 Banaphul. p. ‘Ja Hay Tai Aami Likhi’ – an interview. p. 15 December.1 Ashapurna Devi. 200 Ashapurna Devi. p. ‘Chhelebelar Utsabe Borodin’. p. pp. 196 Korak. ‘Ja Hay’. 197. ‘A-kapat Satyabati’. “Apart from the tendency to hyper-realism. p. 1972). Rajshekhar Basu’s letter to Ashapurna Devi. Korak. quoted in ‘Trija Ashapurna’ by Soma Sen. Presidential Address at Banga Sahitya Sammelan (Siliguri.. p. ‘Ja Hay’. p. pesha nay. ‘Aamar Sahitya Chinta’. pp. Presidential Address (Siliguri. Aar ek Ashapurna. 196 Ashapurna Devi. ‘“Subarnalata”: Haarie Jaoa. 189 Ibid. 15 25 . 13 ‘Ja Hay’. Korak. dated 20. Tai Likhi’. 124 Ashapurna Devi. Tarashankar Bandyopadhay’s comment on Ashapurna’s early stories and novels. Aar ek Ashapurna. 104 7 8 9 10 11 12 ‘Ja Hay’. 196-97 Ashapurna Devi. 133 ‘Ja Hay’. Korak. pp. Korak. 152 24 Ashapurna Devi. p. Korak. p. 58 Alok Chakravarty. 4 Ashapurna Devi.” 3 Ibid. ‘Nesha nay’. 189. all human beings were the same inside. Aar ek Ashapurna. p. 126. 135 6 ‘Ja Hay’. Korak. p. Presidential Address at Nikhil Bharat Banga Sahitya Sammelan (Cuttack. ‘Gajendrakumarer Sahityakarma’. Tapasya Ghosh. ‘Ja Dekhi. p. made Ashapurna even more convinced that “whatever the variations in environment. but avidly read such translations wherever she could find them. literature is now showing another trend of over indulgence.186.53. p. Reading world literature. ‘Aashirbad’. Korak. however. 251 18 19 20 21 22 23 Ashapurna Devi. 196 5 Ashapurna Devi. Na –Lekha Meyeder Itihaas’. Aar ek Ashapurna. Aar ek Ashapurna. Korak. Korak. p. Korak. Ashapurna made this remark in the context of explaining that she had access to other literatures only through Bengali translation. p.. locality or character type. p. 111 14 15 16 Ashapurna had this in mind while conceiving her first stories around the characters which would return in Subarnalata. 250 Ashapurna Devi. 1964). 144 Ashapurna Devi. Elsewhere Ashapurna acknowledges that her mother was the inspiration behind her writing (‘Sangsar O Lekhika Jibane Aami Paripurna’. 20 Ashapurna Devi. p. 144 2 Ashapurna Devi. Korak. p. 197 17 Ibid. 190-91. p. ‘Nesha nay. p. 1973) in Aar ek Ashapurna. We may call it hyper-empathy. even before she had planned the first volume of her trilogy. p. 196-97.” Nikhil Bharat Banga Sahitya Sammelan (Jamshedpur. 26 December. Korak.2. Aar ek Ashapurna. Korak. p. time. Korak. Presidential Address at Nikhil Bharat Banga Sahitya Sammelan (Delhi.

Jan-April. 1998) Bhaumick. 12 27 Ashapurna Devi. Pratham Paratisruti (Mitra and Ghosh. 1997) Bakul Katha (Mitra and Ghosh. reprint. pb. 2009) Subarnalata (Mitra and Ghosh. p. p. p. reprint. Cf. 1972.26 Ashapurna Devi. Mitra and Ghosh. p. 1994. 1974. 144. Ashapurna. Korak Sahitya Patrika (Ashapurna Devi Sankhya). Tapas (ed). 156 Korak. 19 Aar ek Ashapurna. 28 Ibid. ‘Khela Theke Lekha’. 18 Ashapurna compares this with the kind of influence that western literature has always exerted on Bengali literature. 2006) . Gajendrakumar. reprint. 236 29 30 BIBLIOGRAPHY Devi. Bakul Katha. reprint 2009) Aar Ek Ashapurna (Mitra and Ghosh. reprint. p. 2009 Mitra. 1965. Aar ek Ashapurna. p. 1964. ‘Ja Dekhi’. Kolkatar Kachhei (1957.

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