Guest Editor Dr. Somrita Urni Ganguly presents

For Women Who Make Mistakes

For Those Who Make Mistakes, Somrita Urni Ganguly

Off to the Moon, Smeetha Bhoumik

Dancing on Women’s Day, Suchita Parikh Mundul

Anupama, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, translated by Somrita Urni Ganguly

Melody of Bandura, Santasree Chaudhuri

Draupadi, Koral Dasgupta

Two poems, Deyasini Roy

About the Editor

For Those Who Make Mistakes

Somrita Urni Ganguly

I watched Qala (2022) last night, Anvita Dutta’s second directorial venture after the success of her gothic tale of female sexuality, desire and freedom, Bulbbul. 

Qala is a kind of film that has the potential to haunt you long after the end credits have rolled. Tripti Dimri’s Qala, a young woman from the idyllic Himachal Pradesh, is gifted with a melodious voice. She is trained at home by a talented, demanding mother who is on a mission to subtly change the landscape of Hindustani classical music. Urmila, played by Swastika Mukherjee, reminds her daughter of her family’s lineage, and adds that the girl needs to earn the respectful sobriquet of “Pandit” (the teacher/ the learned one), if she wishes to carry forward the illustrious legacy of her ancestors. In India of that era, only men were called “Pandits” or masters; the women were disregarded as “baijis” or low entertainers. Qala is caught between her frantic need of her mother’s approval, and her ambition to succeed in the commercial male-dominated music industry in pre-Independence India of the 1930s-’40s. On her journey to the zenith and the Golden Vinyl award, Qala falters, makes mistakes. So does her mother – the formidable thumrri singer, now retired, who is unable to provide the kind of support that Qala needs from her. Urmila, like her daughter, fumbles, falls. They are both right in the diverse paths they choose for themselves, and both devastatingly wrong. This beautifully complex mother-daughter relationship, their deep psychological trauma, and their journey through doubt and desperation to eventual destruction is represented on the screen with grace, nuance and understanding. Every scene is like a painting, using gentle brushstrokes and light pastel hues, leaving the audience with watercolour eyes.
As I watched Qala, I thought of the insecurities that stain my waking hours too. On my journey to selfhood, I’ve spent nights on end looking for validation from the external world, forgetting that ‘too-much’ women are often regarded as witches by our society. To fit in, I would have to clip my wings. I’ve spent nights on end chasing perfection, forgetting that every ‘ideal’ that this world is fixated by is a shifting goal-post. To find universal approval, I would have to sacrifice my individuality.
Watching Qala reminded me that I too am a creature of grief, jealousy, anger, irrationality, hope, and love. Incomplete. Insecure. A work in progress.

So, this year, on International Working Women’s Day, for this special issue of Yugen Quest Review, I thought of writing to, of reaching out to women who make mistakes. A slip, no matter how insignificant, a moment of weakness, no matter how short-lived, can be held against women in violent, brutal ways. We do not have the permission to err as freely, as gloriously as our male counter-parts. And so, we must. We need to fall, pick ourselves up, and rise again. One mistake is all they see. But our mistakes do not define us, will not define us. Let them celebrate perfection. You do not hesitate to make mistakes, work your way out of them, and create magic.

I hope you enjoy reading the works in this issue as much as I have enjoyed putting them together for you.
In solidarity,
Dr. Somrita Urni Ganguly is a professor, and award-winning poet and literary translator. She was a Fulbright Doctoral Research Fellow at Brown University, USA, and is an alumna of the University of East Anglia’s International Literary Translation and Creative Writing Summer School, UK. Somrita served as a judge for the PEN America Translation Prize, and the Kamala Das Poetry Awards, and an Expert Reader for the English PEN Translation Grant, the National Endowment for the Arts Translation Grant offered by the US federal government, and the National Translation Award (US). She is currently Head of the Department of English, Maharaja Manindra Chandra College, University of Calcutta, and has worked on literary translation projects with Room to Read, USA, and the National Centre for Writing, UK. Her work has been showcased at the London Book Fair, and she has read in cities like Bloomington, Bombay, Boston, Calcutta, Cove, Delhi, Hyderabad, London, Miami, Providence, and Singapore. Somrita edited the first anthology of food poems, Quesadilla and Other Adventures (2019), and translated 3 Stories: Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (2021), Firesongs (2019), Shakuni (2019), and The Midnight Sun: Love Lyrics and Farewell Songs (2018), among other works.

Off to the Moon

Smeetha Bhoumik

Flying off to the moon
On the wings of soaring poetry,

Oh, rejoice!


What a time to be.
Tiny perforations, burgeoning aureoles of nuance...


Luminous orbs of hope
Seem to pierce right through obliterations


A feeling of weightlessness. 
Baggage left behind,


And tears. Such alacrity in the air,
You can almost see edges of new worlds

Glimpsed in sudden bursts of 
Brilliance

Born in the heart
And borrowed by the eyes

To see 
How the world is churning

Out dreams into reality.

Murky waters of existence  

Birth lotuses of blushing hues,
The heart refuses to settle down

To placid beats.
It's booming a thunderous, joyous score

Bringing up old songs, romance,
The very core of humanity to the fore!

Moon, how you resurrect, you gift,
You rewrite in silver letters

All that has been forgotten
Over centuries of living rough

On precipices of endless wants...
Thank you, O' gentle, loving, tender Moon.
Smeetha Bhoumik is a poet, artist, founding editor, Yugen Quest Review, and founder of the WE literary community (2016). She is the chief editor of Equiverse Space: A Sound Home in Words (2018). Her art, mainly the 'Universe Series,' has shown in exhibitions in India and abroad. Her favourite poetic form is the sestina. She facilitates poetry at #CeWoPoWriMoWE. As Founder – WE, she has helped establish several awards, including the WE Kamala Das Poetry Award. Her poems feature in national/ international journals, anthologies including Oxygen - Parables of the Pandemic (2022), Quesadilla & Other Adventures (2019), Muse India (2017, 2018), Life and Legends (2018), Modern Indian Poetry – Sahitya Akademi (2019), among others.

Dancing on Women’s Day

Suchita Parikh-Mundul

To celebrate the day, I spin
to oppose the ceiling
that exists only for me,
clockwise, anticlockwise,
until the walls blur,
the body smudges,
hands grow webs
to carry history,
to slip through cracks,
to rise above.
The moon fixes a smile
in my eyes,
its crescent reflecting the spectrum
from shadow to light.
A steeple grows over me,
chants rise from the lips –
I am half witch, full woman today.
Suchita Parikh-Mundul is a writer and copy editor. Her poems have appeared in literary magazines like Narrow Road, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Yugen Quest Review, Outlook India, Muse India, Sahitya Akademi’s Indian Literature, and anthologies such as Amity: peace poems (ed. Sahana Ahmed, Hawakal, 2022), The Well-Earned (ed. Kiriti Sengupta, Hawakal, 2022), and international compilations. Her articles have appeared in print magazines as well as websites. 

Anupama by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay Translated by Somrita Urni Ganguly

from Three Stories: Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (BEE Books, 2021)

Part III.
 
On the fifth day of Boishakh, the first month of the Bengali calendar, Anupama was to marry Suresh. The villagers were waiting for that day with anticipation. Their excitement knew no bounds. Jagabandhu-babu’s house was packed with guests, talking loudly over the sound of music. People walked in and out of the house throughout the day. The cooks put together a grand feast. The main rituals of the wedding were to take place in the evening. The guests awaited the arrival of the groom with bated breath. 
However, as soon as evening descended, there was an uproar in Rakhal-babu’s house. The groom was missing. Suresh could not be found. The news spread like wildfire, and soon reached Jagabandhu-babu’s ears. People were at their wits’ end. Where was Suresh?
The ceremony was supposed to commence at 8 in the evening. When it was nearly 9 p.m. and there was no trace of the groom, Jagabandhu-babu started pacing up and down, frantically. His wife held his anxious hands, and asked, “What are we to do now?” She was in tears.

Jagabandhu-babu flared up in an instant, and screamed, “What are we going to do? How about arranging for my funeral? I’ve lost everything today because of Anupama. Honour, wealth, reputation, everything. People are going to ostracise us from this society. I don’t know why I decided to marry you, or for that matter, remarry after all those years. It is clearly written in the holy scriptures that women are the root cause of all evil. I dug my own grave, and walked into it because of you. Begone! Take that wretched girl and get lost from here!”
Anupama’s mother was in dire straits. Her husband was being difficult, and her daughter was about to faint in the next room.
The clock kept ticking. Ten! Eleven! Twelve! One! When it was nearly two in the night, they had still not managed to locate Suresh.

Yet, it was imperative that Anupama got married that night – to Suresh, or to anyone else. Jagabandhu-babu and his family could not risk social ostracisation.
Around 3 o’clock, Jagabandhu-babu sent out five of his friends and well-wishers in search of Ramdulal Dutta, a sickly man in his fifties. They dressed up the aging man like a groom, and took him to the bride’s house.
When Anupama learnt of the latest development, she came out of her stupor, fell at her mother’s feet, and pleaded, “Please don’t do this to me, Ma. This is like a dagger through my heart. I will have to kill myself if you force me to marry this man.”
“What can I do, my child?” her mother cried.

Even though she did not express it, Anupama’s mother was feeling extremely helpless and guilty. She went to her husband, yet again, weeping inconsolably. She said, “Please think this through, dear. We’re pushing our daughter to her death.”
In response, Anupama’s father went to his daughter’s room, and said, “Get up, Anu. It’s nearly dawn.”
“Where are we going, Baba?”
“I need to give your hand in marriage to Ramdulal Dutta.”
“Baba! Kill me! Bring me some poison!”
“You can poison yourself tomorrow if you so wish, my child. Tonight, I need to save my face, my honour, and my reputation. You need to get married tonight. Tomorrow you can consume poison, or drown yourself in the river. I won’t stop you.”
Anupama shivered, and said, “Please, save me, Baba.”
Jagabandhu-babu was resolute in his decision, and despite all her protestations, Anupama was married off to the old Ramdulal Dutta that night.
*
Ramdulal Dutta was a widower. He did not have any family, and lived an unhappy life. He owned a small, two-roomed brick house, and a tiny kitchen garden. He took Anupama to his humble abode the day after they got married. She was accompanied by an entourage of servants, and basketsful of food. For about a week, Ramdulal Dutta was a happy, carefree man. His rich father-in-law ensured that the new groom did not want for anything. Marrying a second time definitely proved fortuitous for Ramdulal. Anupama, however, returned to her father’s house on the eighth day. When they saw her pale, shrunken face, even the servants in the house started sobbing.
Anupama decided to bring an end to all her sufferings. Later that night, when the household was asleep, she quietly stepped out of her room, and went to her father’s garden. Sitting on the steps leading to the pond, Anupama made up her mind: tonight will be my last.

Anupama broke down. After a while, she stepped into the pond. As she waded to its deepest section, she felt the water rising around her – to her knees, her waist, her chest, and finally, her neck. Soon, her head was under water. However, within a minute, she floated up to the surface. She repeated the drill, swallowed copious amounts of water, but each time she was up again. Anupama knew how to swim, she could not drown herself in that pond despite all her efforts. Every time it got difficult for her to breathe, she found herself struggling to get to the surface. Exhausted, drained, she dragged herself out of the pond at last. As her limp body slumped against the stairs leading to the pond, Anupama realised it wasn’t easy to die by suicide, no matter what the circumstance.
Earlier, when she was miserable and hurt in love, she had assumed that we hold the reigns of our life. We can let go any minute. Yet, that night, when she had finally decided to let go, to cut her life short, she failed. Her eleven year old heart was not strong enough to free her of her trappings.
When she returned home at dawn, her body was shivering. Her mother asked, “Anu, did you take a bath at this hour?”
Anupama nodded.

Mr. Ramdulal Dutta, on the other hand, was determined to exploit Jagabandhu-babu’s hospitality. Initially, the new groom was well-taken care of, but after a while he noticed a change in people’s behavior. No one was particularly fond of him, and Anupama’s family never lost an opportunity to humiliate him. […]
Consequently, the old man stopped worrying about the world and spent his days relaxing in his in-laws’ house. He was not affronted by their cold behaviour. He took what he got, uncomplaining. He was given two large, healthy meals a day, and for the aged Mr. Dutta that was quite sufficient. However, his days of bliss were numbered. His frail body was battling with diseases. Every winter, severe bouts of cough seemed to take him a step closer to his final destination. The winter he spent in Jagabandhu-babu’s house was no different. Jagabandhu-babu realised that Ramdulal was possibly suffering from tuberculosis. Something cancerous was spreading through his entire body, afflicting his bones. There was no cure for it in their little village. He, therefore, sent his son-in-law off to Kolkata. Once in the big city, he received adequate and immediate treatment. His pious wife must have brought him good luck. Ramdulal’s journey eventually came to end after a couple of years in Kolkata.

Part IV.
Anupama cried after her husband died, as Bengali women are expected to do. She put away all her fancy clothes and jewellery, and donned a plain white saree. Her mother wept, and said, “Anu, I can’t bear to see you like this. At least wear a few bangles.”
“That isn’t possible, Ma. Widows aren’t supposed to wear any jewellery.”
“But you’re a young girl, Anu.”
“How does that matter? Bengali windows aren’t defined by their age.”

The mother had nothing left to say. She sobbed pitiably day in and day out. People expressed their grief over Anu’s widowhood, even though they had always known the inevitable fallout of forcing her to marry Ramdulal Dutta. Some said, “What did you expect? She married a nearly dead man. No wonder she’s a widow now.” Anupama’s parents were prepared for such an eventuality. They weren’t particularly taken aback by Ramdulal Dutta’s death. Anupama’s fate was decided the day she married the old man. She never got to know her husband, love him, or be with him – yet, she was determined to spend the rest of his life as his widow. She followed all the rituals strictly: did not touch water at night, boiled herself a handful of food during the day, fasted once every fortnight. Additionally, she fasted on full moon days and no moon nights, on festivals and other auspicious occasions. Effectively, she starved herself for almost fifteen days each month. If someone ever questioned her, she said, “I’m done with this life. I’m only preparing for my afterlife now.” Soon, her body gave up from not eating enough. She Looked like a ghost of her former self, emaciated, weak. Her parents could see death looming large over her fragile frame. One day, Anupama’s father said to his wife, “What if we get her married again?”

Jagabandhu-babu’s wife was shocked. She exclaimed, “What? That’s not an option. Our religion won’t permit it.”
“I’ve thought about it for a while. We won’t be committing a sin. There is no direct relationship between marriages and our faith. In fact, if I let my daughter perish like this, I will be committing a grave sin.”
“Let’s find her another man then.”

When Anupama’s parents shared their thoughts with her, she shook her head, and said, firmly, “No. We can’t do this.”
Her father tried to explain the situation to her. “My child, this is not a crime.”
“It is. I have suffered enough in this lifetime. I don’t want to ruin my afterlife as well. I won’t take a chance.”
“Nothing’s ruined yet, Anu. However, if we don’t get you married a second time things will only go downhill from here. What if we find you a good man? He will be able to save you – in this life, and the next.”
“Can I not save myself?”
“No, my child. It doesn’t work like that. Not for Bengali women at least. Forget about afterlife and cycles of birth; in this life too women aren’t capable of doing much on their own. They need constant assistance. Anu, who can help you better than your husband? Moreover, why must you so suffer? What crimes are you paying the price for?”
“Must be the sins I committed in my past life.”
Jagabandhu-babu was a devout Hindu. Anupama’s words moved his pure, practicing, orthodox heart. He was lost in thought for a few minutes before finally saying, “Even so, my child, you need someone to look after you. A guardian. Who will protect you when we are gone?”
“Dada. My elder brother.”
“God forbid, if he refuses to take care of you where will you go, Anu? He’s not your mother’s child. He is your step-brother. And as far as I understand, he has a rather twisted mind.”
Anupama thought to herself, “I will poison myself in that case.”

“And there’s something else that I want to tell you, my child,” Anu’s father added. “You may have a change of heart later. Even though this sounds awkward coming from me, I must alert you to this possibility. We cannot always control our youthful desires. Even saints and ascetics have not always been able to deny their urges and needs.”
Anupama was silent for a while. Then she said, “I’ll lose my honour. My faith!”
“No, my child. This has nothing to do with your faith. Now that I am older, I can see things clearer.”
Anupama shook her head. She thought to herself, “Baba, how have you changed your mind now? Why did you not think of this earlier when you offered me as a sacrificial heifer at the altar of your faith? You shut your eyes and your ears and your sense of reason then. I can see things clearer too now, Baba. You will have to pay for what you’ve done to me.”


This excerpt is published by arrangement with the translator. The English translation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s story “Anupama” is a part of the book Three Stories: Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay published by BEE Books. It is now available worldwide.
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, often known as the Charles Dickens of Bengali literature, was a twentieth century novelist and short story writer, celebrated for his iconic female characters and his anti-establishment philosophy. 

Melody of Bandura

Santasree Chaudhuri

Neighborhood grocery store
I walked like a shadow
Picked up necessities from empty shelves

Recession mocked me
Inflation humiliated my wants
I went to pay
Credit card declined
Zero balance
Misery followed

Car was hungry for fuel
I threw the key into the flowing river Dnieper
Reached home
Walking alone through
Deserted roads
Darkness greeted me
I entered my cost apartment
I shivered without heating
I sat with an empty plate
Sipping soda from a green bottle
I am an elderly woman
Of a distant district town
Staying alone
In a war hit zone

Silent cell phone
Piercing sound of sirens
No domestic gas supply
Flameless oven
I pray for peace every morning
My piano needs my loving touch
I play my favourite tune
Doris Day comes alive
Que sera sera, what will be, will be....
I am alone
Amidst ego, arrogance of power
Cold wind comforted my desperation
My grieving heart floated
in our haunting neighbourhood
Looking for the familiar faces
Nancy, Dorothy, Kate...
Jolly good guys - Ted, Bill, James...

Finally, assistance...

Rescue team
Humanitarian aid
From the rubble of destruction.

I buried my memories, sentiments,
Belongings of my cosy home
Destiny smiled in silence
"Accept the apathy
Move on"....
I closed my eyes

Now I have a new address
Rescue centre...
Status - Refugee
In a Country culturally unknown to me...
I look at the borderless sky
If I die no one will cry...

I slept deeply
Only to wake up with loss of memory
Fighting my last battle in a suburban town feeding a blue bird
Looking at the crooked trees
Near the forest of pine
Holding a Bandura....
Last music
My mother taught
perhaps, perhaps, perhaps
Santasree Chaudhuri is an award winning entrepreneur, women’s rights activist, poet, and poetry-film-maker, currently based in Kolkata, India.

Two Poems

Deyasini Roy

Did You Know?

Did you know the cupboard 
that day woke up in a jolt
of vibrant turquoise?
In his earthen brown coat
of our morning coffee
And played the old chorus of 
grandmum's running fingers:
Trickles of 'nolen gur' in sunset ginger
Those were our seasons running~
Summers, rains, winters in 'boyems'
of 'achaar', 'namkeen' and 'narus'.

Our gardener Armchair rests 
in the comfort of our verandah
Beside the lovingly tended 
Gramophone blooms in decorative pots
The bright colours of home waxing 
and waning on his dark silky body
Feeding his muddy pores and boots,
the crumbfilled toaster of memories
Just then the Cupboard played:
“Amar onge onge ke bajaye,
 bajaye banshi”........
The Armchair swings
and the thunder rolls
A gush of dark.
Who is there? Who is there? I ask.
And the curtain falls.

The Photoframe mistress living
next to 'Our Fireplace Lane 102'
wakes me up the next morning.
I get back to my usual tea of lemon honey.
The rain has stopped.
The earthy smell of the white sari
glistens and calms a fevered forehead.

Mama’s Gangrene

Deyasini Roy

 [With apologies to T.S. Eliot]

**April is the cruellest month,
Time for a change in skin colour 
From red to purple to black
You will not know. It comes silently,
tiptoes into your womb like the 
Embryo of a lilac memory 
You will not know and home 
the cancer within you-
Until its tiny red heart starts
beating one fine day
And you find your skin pale
and turn grey like sun-blasted 
bodies of purplish red, crashing,
pounding as it matures in a day.
You feel the flutters somersault into
kicks on your lower limbs
The skin glows with a hollow cry
of a bubbly dew drop~ trembling,
throbbing and one fine day you
hear a crackling sound and can't
figure out if it is the heart in peroxide- 
hydrogen or the clotted betadine brain
For it is April again, the mustard stirs
the rotten roots and burns the skin
The salty lips on the right edge of
her foot opens and sings
It's mouth wide open to form 'O'
the pain deeper than mantras, 
numbing. At night, the pus forges
its own sea-song, foamed and
frothed and dribbles onto the sand.
I wake up to the foul songs of April
The time for a change in skin colour
From red to purple to black.

Draupadi

Koral Dasgupta





About the Editor

Dr. Somrita Urni Ganguly is a professor, and award-winning poet and literary translator. She was a Fulbright Doctoral Research Fellow at Brown University, USA, and is an alumna of the University of East Anglia’s International Literary Translation and Creative Writing Summer School, UK. Somrita served as a judge for the PEN America Translation Prize, and the Kamala Das Poetry Awards, and an Expert Reader for the English PEN Translation Grant, the National Endowment for the Arts Translation Grant offered by the US federal government, and the National Translation Award (US). She is currently Head of the Department of English, Maharaja Manindra Chandra College, University of Calcutta, and has worked on literary translation projects with Room to Read, USA, and the National Centre for Writing, UK. Her work has been showcased at the London Book Fair, and she has read in cities like Bloomington, Bombay, Boston, Calcutta, Cove, Delhi, Hyderabad, London, Miami, Providence, and Singapore. Somrita edited the first anthology of food poems, Quesadilla and Other Adventures (2019), and translated 3 Stories: Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (2021), Firesongs (2019), Shakuni (2019), and The Midnight Sun: Love Lyrics and Farewell Songs (2018), among other works.

Landing in Tune – A Heady Mix of Past, Present & New Times…

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