Author: Mahasweta Devi
Translator(s): Sumanta Banerjee
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8170462398
It is these hoodlums and desperadoes, the derelicts and drifters of the Bengali underworld as well as their political patrons and protectors in the police, whom Mahasweta brings to life with her caustic pen in the pages of these stories. As she pillories the respectable representatives of power in our political system who sustain this underworld, she offers us the extraordinary chance to watch a lifelike effigy of the bizarre structure of Indian democracy burning in the background-Sumanta Benerjee.
Unlike most of her works, which focus on tribals and the rural dispossessed, the four stories in this collection are located in the urban and suburban underworld, and form an unusual segment of Mahasweta Devi’s oeuvre-Fisherman (about Jagat who recovers bodies of young boys from the village tank so that the police can pass them off as cases of drowning), Knife (a tongue-in-cheek account of gang warfare in a suburban town of West Bengal, bordering Bangladesh), Body (about a young woman, used by a politician and his cohorts until she makes her own protest against the exploitative Establishment) and Killer (in which Sona alias Akhil, an unemployed middle-class youth, discovers himself after his first test killing).
The in-depth introductory essay by veteran cultural historian Sumanta Benerjee, who himself, form his crime reporting past, has a firsthand familiarity with the milieu being depicted, puts the stories in context and goes on to discuss the development of the new criminal underworld in Bengal today.
Jagat retrieves the body with the greatest of care. As it breaks through the surface, its silent protest poisons the air; the stench of rotting flesh carries quickly on the breeze. Jagat lays it down upon the tarpaulin. Then he scrubs at his arms, scouring them from the wrists up to the elbows, with mud from the tank.
These days Jagat demands seven rupees per corpse. What after all, is the value of a rupee today? The value of money, the price of human lives, both so cheap these days. Jagat is certain that those who kill get money. Jagat can’t believe that anything is possible without money.
He believes that the constables, police inspector, the murderer and the murdered, are all part of one enormous cash transaction.