Somrita Urni Ganguly Translates Anupama by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay
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?”
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.
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
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.