The Oriya voice in Sarojini Sahoo | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 20, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 20, 2007

The Oriya voice in Sarojini Sahoo

Subrata Kumar Das is thrilled by a translation of a novel

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Mithya Gerosthali
Sarojini Sahoo
Bangla translation: Dilwar Hossain
Anupam Prokashoni, Dhaka

Certainly it can be considered a good piece of news for readers of literature in Bangladesh that a worthy translation of a novel by a noted fictionist of Orissa has come out very recently from a local publishing house. The novel Mithya Gerosthali, set in a very familiar context, is able to draw the attention of many for both its loftiness and its lucidity of language.
Born in 1956 in Orissa, India, Sarojini Sahoo did her MA and PhD degrees in Oriya literature and a Bachelor of Law from Utkal University. A teacher in a college, Sahoo married Jagadish Mohanty, a veteran writer of Orissa. Both in novels and short stories she has demonstrated her own views in her individual way, thereby drawing a huge readership, as online materials suggest. Her anthologies of short stories include Sukhara Muhanmuhin (1981), NijaGahirareNije (1989), Amrutara Pratikshare (1992), Chowkath (1994), Tarali Jauthiba Durga (1995), Deshantari (1999), Dukha Apramita (2006) and Sarojini Sahoo short stories (2006).
Sarojini Sahoo has bagged many awards, including the prestigious Orissa Sahitya Award in 1993. Wide translations of her writings in different languages, including English, have brought the fictionist a newer reading public from a wider region. The recent effort toward translating her novel into Bangla will bring in some more Bangladeshi Bangla-speaking readership for her.
If we look at the recent novels of Sarojini Sahoo, the titles that flash before our eyes are Upanibesh (1998), Pratibandi (1999), Swapna Khojali Mane (2000) and Mahajatra (2001). Her personal website also speaks highly of these novels. And what is noteworthy is that before the publication of the aforesaid novels she had been conferred much regional recognition. We can thus assume that after her great success in the genre of short stories she has turned to the wider horizon of novels.
Gambhiri Ghara or Mithya Gerosthali is a very simple novel with a very simple plot creating very simple impressions outwardly. But any reader can identify all these simplicities as the special features of this female author of Orissa, or India, or the world. Yes, the inner web that the story of the novel revolves around, indeed evolves, involves the whole Indian nation and even goes beyond national territory. Truth be said, the novel does have an international perspective also.
It is rather curious that the novel begins with two people, Kuki alias Roksana and Shafique, who have never seen each other, never been sure of each other's true involvement in love. But how is it that they feel so much for each other? The relationship develops only through mails. How did the development start? No, the creator of the story has not exposed it. Maybe it was accidental? People who go online know that it is not very unusual for people in the farthest corners of the world to come in touch with one another. But how does it reach such a zenith where they become no less than true lovers? A search for an answer to this question is embodied by the entire novel.
Such a possibility comes true when real hollowness gets a grip on one. A victim of this hollowness is Kuki, an Indian housewife, the protagonist of the novel. Her conjugal life with Oniket fails to provide her with anything that is preserved in the core of the heart, something that people always hanker after, that a human being always cherishes. The case of her Pakistani counterpart Shafique is nothing better, though he boasts: 'I have experienced fifty two fair sexes' (page 20). Moreover, the lustful life of his wife Tabassum is possibly the reason that thrusts him into such a lifestyle, or vice versa. Life with her husband has compelled Tabassum into making her own choices.
The ethereal relations between Kuki and Shafique pose as something platonic though not as non-physical as the term meant in bygone days. Shafique writes many mails that brim with physical desire and through them he actually wants to reach even the heights of carnal desire.
But a feature of Shafique's soul that makes Kuki so concentrated and devoted is his openness: thinking nothing of the coming days he opens up to Kuki, the never-seen beloved. Furthermore, he plans to make a future with Kuki, if not in Pakistan, in a European land. And that desire makes him attempt to obtain a scholarship in France. And here arises the globalism of the novel. Shafique discovers his backward position as a Pakistani, or as an Asian, that keeps him at a remove from Europe.
As Shafique is an artist, his mails ventilate many novel ideas that make one an individualist. He raises questions that do not sound very fair to those who govern a country: they detect clues of terrorism in his voice and thus the artistic personality in him gets crushed.
At the other end, Kuki meets a similar fate. Shafique's arrest causes her immense pain. She loses the nest that once would give her a sort of aesthetic pleasure. But all possibilities end in smoke.
Not that Sarojini Sahoo is a well known literary figure in Bangladesh. Though she has paid a visit here and some newspapers produced reports on her, I did not happen to read any book of hers beforehand. Very recently I got a mail from her and learned that she is a visitor of my website on the novels of Bangladesh called www.bangladeshinovels.com. The mail noted that her novel Gambhiri Ghara had been published in Bangla by a Dhaka publisher. In that mail and in the following ones, a desire of hers was explicit: Could I prepare a review of the book?
Much credit goes to Dilwar Hossain, the Bangla-language translator of the novel. I must admit that Dilwar Hossain has been able to come out of the limitations that translators are generally stifled by. At many places the book does not appear to be a translation. The novel comprises a good number of English poems written by Shafique. The poetic writings of the artist have not been converted, perhaps in the belief that they may lose their beauty and essence.
Subrata Kumar Das is a translator and essayist.

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