Monday, October 22, 2012

Puja literature: Duratar Janmabhumi/ Debesh Roy

Do you expect in a literary novel a low-down on World Bank, its past and present role in development of third-world countries? But this is exactly you get in Debesh Roy’s recent novel published in the autumn number of Aajkal.

Okay, the regular readers of this blog knows, during this puja time, every Bengali newspaper and periodical brings out its Puja issues, most of them tomes, comprising full-length novels, stories, memoir, poems, you name anything. Most of these are, needless to say, are shitheap. But if you trawl enough and in right places, you might come across a few gems here and there.

Debesh Roy is a world-class Bengali author. The octogenarian author, despite his odd allegiance to a degenerated leftist party, is wonderfully active and still evolving. Every year he comes up with a new innovative, almost original novel around this time. Too tempting for me.  In fact, I look forward to reading it every year.

The protagonist of this year’s novel Duratar Janmabhumi is a Harvard-educated economist, a Bangladeshi Muslim, now an American citizen. Zedda Matlab, Zet to his friends and colleagues, was an university teacher at first, then worked for the World Bank with its various development projects in Somalia, Indonesia and other third-world countries, and now makes a living by providing “economic intelligence” to institutions or bodies who work in various poor countries with  hidden political agendas.

The novel opens with Zet’s landing at Dacca airport with Alice, his live-in partner. He is returning to his country after thirty years, but on an espionage job: he is assigned to find out why the bridge over the Padma is lying stalled and unfinished. He wanted to do it under cover, but in his hurry he exposes himself, and hurts an old man who is shocked by Zet’s attitude with regard to the country in which he was born and raised.

Now, for Bengali novels or should I say for those of any languge, it’s a great theme.  And if you see an essay-type insertion on World Bank  in the middle of the novel, it is just apt and you have nothing to complain.

But what astounds me is the readabilty of the book. It is such an effortless and smooth read that you can’t simply put it down.

To conclude, Debesh Roy is continually pushing the boundary of  literature – Bengali literature in particular, and world literature in general -  with his inimitable narrative. My kudos to him.

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