The Witch - A Short Story by Tarasankar Bandopadhyay - first published 1940 - translated from Bengali by Aruna Chakravarti - 2020-published in The Borderless Journal
You may read today’s story here
I was initially made aware of this very valuable edition to translations of pre-idependence Sub-Continent Short Stories by Mitali Chakravarty, in a Facebook Post
The Witch tells a harrowing story of how a young woman of the Dom caste went from being just a girl wanting to marry the boy she loved to becoming an old crone living alone in a very harsh landscape with deadly supernatural powers. During the British Raj period Doms were legally classified as not just Untouchables but as members of a criminal caste. Doms were even after Independence required to register with the police for special monitoring. Of course Doms could not marry outside their castes.
Bandopadhyay starts the story with a powerful description of the region.
“No one knows who gave the tract of land its name. Or when it was given. Those facts have been lost and buried in the annals of history. But the name has survived to this day as a vibrant reminder of its past glory. Chhati Phataar Maath — the field of the bursting chest.
There is no water here. Nor a speck of shade. No trees. Only a few thorny bushes of seyakul and khairi. The land stretches to the horizon in a shimmering sheet at the end of which the clumps of trees that signify the existence of villages appear as a dark blur. Looking on it the heart grows heavy; the mind listless. Travellers walking from one end to another are apt to lose their lives, their chests bursting from thirst, by the side of some ancient water body dead and dry for centuries.
The number of deaths increase in the summer months. In this season it seems as though Chhati Phataar Maath springs into a new unholy life. Its tongue slavers for the taste of blood and it exercises all its powers to attain the dimensions of a mighty pestilence. Dust, dense as smoke, rises in swirls from the ground, higher and higher, till it meets the sky. Burning heat and the stench of death hit the unwary traveller’s senses. But he sees nothing for the thick pall hanging in the air renders Chhaati Phaatar Maath invisible to the human eye.”
Then we are introduced to the witch:
“To its east is a marshy tract which the locals call Daldalir Jalaa. Daldalir Jalaa had been a shallow bog of slime and rotting vegetation, the size of a lake, till the Sahas of Ramnagar bought theland, drained it and planted mango saplings. In time these grew into fine trees. But alas! Forty years ago, an old witch with fearful powers of destruction took possession of the orchard and made her home there.
People are still afraid of going near her for her ruthlessness is well known. Children see her at a distance and run for safety. Yet everyone can describe her. Her matted hair, crooked limbs and, best of all, her eyes. Those eyes, they say, have not blinked in forty years.
Beneath one of the mango trees is an earthen hovel. It has only one room with a dawa, a veranda thatched with straw, jutting out of it. The witch sits here all day long her body still as a statue. Her unwavering gaze is fixed on Chhati Phataar Maath.”
I am quoting at length to show the highly cinematic skill of the author.
As the story line unravels we learn of her past. We see how the caste strictures she was born with have filled her with hatred. There are several very interesting episodes and plot lines.
The Witch took me into a very dark place. The powerless, outcasts have often turned from main stream beliefs to the occult. In some ways millions of Indians were powerless legally little more than human garbage.
The rule by the British Raj enforced this. They used the caste structure to keep people down.
The Witch is a great short story. It took me into a world far from my own. It is exciting and more than a bit scary.
Tarasankar Bandopadhyay (1898-1971) was a renowned writer from Bengal. He penned 65 novels, 53 books of stories, 12 plays, 4 essay collections, 4 autobiographies, 2 travelogues and composed several songs. He was awarded the Rabindra Puraskar(1955), the Sahitya Akademi Award(1956), the Padma Shri(1962), the Jnanapith Award(1966) and the Padma Bhushan(1969) in India.
Anna Chakravarti (India) has been the principal of a prestigious women’s college of Delhi University for ten years. She is also a well-known academic, creative writer and translator with fourteen published books on record. Her novels, The Inheritors, Jorasanko, Daughters of Jorasanko, have sold widely and received rave reviews. Suralakshmi Villa is her fifteenth book. She has also received awards such as the Vaitalik Award, Sahitya Akademi Award and Sarat Puraskar for her translations.
From The story link.
I offer my thanks to Mitali Chakravarty for Publishing this story
She is the founding editor of the Borderless Journal.
Mitali Chakravarty has been writing from the age of eight. She started her professional career as a journalist in The Times of India. Her bylines have appeared in The Statesman, The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Pioneer, The Daily Star and more journals. Her poetry and prose have been published online and as part of numerous hardcopy anthologies. Some of her poetry has been translated to Nepali and German. Mitali also translates from Bengali and Hindi to English. She has published a humorous book of essays on living in China where she spent eight years, In the Land of Dragons . From borderlessjournal.COM
I took a long look at The Borderless Journal. It already has lots of Short stories i hope to read and much more in just a few months of publication .
Here is their Mission Statement
“Borders were drawn through history dividing mankind into smaller more manageable divisions that could be ruled and led. Borderless is a celebration of the human spirit that soars exploring and developing links beyond all the borders that exist in today’s world.
It is a literary journal to connect all writers and readers beyond the bonds of money, nationality, rituals and cultures… to a world of ideals. We look for any positive input — humour, poetry, prose. There are no boundaries to human imagination and thought and that is what we are set to explore”