Food, hope, and a lot of love — review of Victory Colony, 1950 in National Herald
Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s review in the Sunday edition of National Herald
Five writers name books they enjoyed reading in 2020…
Ashlin Mathew of National Herald spoke with Annie Zaidi, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Krupa Ge, Nisha Susan and Omair Ahmed on their favourite reads of 2020. Shekhar, award-winning writer and novelist, listed Victory Colony, 1950 as one of his favourites. “Ghosh’s debut novel has the feel of a warm, snuggled-in blanket as several elements in the book – the delectable Bengali cuisine, the endearing daak naam with which Bengalis address their loved ones, etc. – are all familiar to me; but the world of this novel is not exactly a warm blanket but a smouldering furnace. The novel is set in the 1950s in Calcutta and deals with the plight of refugees from East Bengal. One cannot miss the empathy and eye for details that Ghosh has,” he said.
Interview in Desi News magazine
The Toronto-based Desi News magazine carried my interview in their December 2020 issue.
Victory Colony, 1950 covered in The Dispatch + an excerpt
Manas had little chance to interact with Amala over the past two days as the women were still holed up inside the school. The morning after the clashes ended, Manas and his friends took a tour of the freshly-seized squatter colony. Manas could see the enormousness of the task that lay ahead for the space to become truly habitable. There was no clean water supply or electricity. Nor did the residents have any sewage or waste collection system in place.
Read the rest in The Dispatch
Victory Colony, 1950 reviewed in Saaranga
Nothing was distinctive about ash, nothing intimate about its appearance. It effaced all notions of personal history in one blazing flash.
The above lines, from Bhaswati Ghosh’s debut novel, Victory Colony, 1950, sets the backdrop of the narrative, where the lives of its two main protagonists, Amala and Manas, are forged together by flames of the partition of the Indian subcontinent.
Victory Colony, 1950 reviewed in Scroll
“Comradeship in love distinguishes this novel of rebuilding refugee lives after the Bengal Partition. Bhaswati Ghosh’s debut novel ‘Victory Colony 1950’ also offers that rare thing: happiness for its characters.”
Read the rest of the review here.
Victory Colony, 1950 reviewed in The Hindu Business Line
Bhaswati Ghosh’s debut novel, set amidst the refugee crisis in Kolkata post the Partition, is a stark reminder of how the history of violence repeats itself
Read the rest of the review here.
Interview with Platform Magazine
I can’t put a finger on it but surmise that the environment I grew up in had something to do with how I was led towards literature and writing. My mother worked at the Arts Library in Delhi University and my grandmother was a writer in Bengali herself. Ours was a joint family, and for years, I was witness to a lot of books as well as the act of writing on a daily basis. This must have led to a natural love for literature, and later, for writing, as I began working in journalism.
My earliest literary influences came from Bengali literature — Rabindranath Tagore, of course, but also Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Manik Bandopadhyay, Shankar, and even Satyajit Ray with his detective and science fiction stories. There was also world literature in Bengali translation such as the stories of One Thousand and One Nights and Charles Dickens, all of which I got to enjoy because of my mother’s library connection. I began reading in English much later and came to admire the writing of Rohinton Mistry and Amitav Ghosh. Through all this, the feminist voices of my grandmother, Amiya Sen and that of Mahasweta Devi, remained strong influences.
Victory Colony, 1950 speaks of the resilience of refugees from East Pakistan — and specifically of Amala Manna — who found themselves mostly unwanted on either side of the border following Partition. In the face of government apathy and public disdain, they started anew their lives from scratch, and in the process, changed the socio‐cultural landscape of Calcutta, the city they claimed as home, forever.
My own roots impacted the writing of this book in an indirect, tangential way. My grandparents were themselves refugees from East Pakistan and had lost their ancestral property. However, they belonged to the middle class and had connections to Calcutta because of work and family reasons even before 1947. Victory Colony, 1950 attempts to look at the lives of people from lower economic backgrounds, who had neither the wherewithal nor any real inclination to cross borders but were forced to migrate when the situation at home became extremely hostile. Needless to say, Victory Colony has renewed resonance and significance in our current geopolitical climate.
The idea for the novel came to me through a strange literary inheritance I can only interpret as a gift. I had become the typist for my now-deceased grandmother’s short stories, all of which she wrote by hand on foolscap sheets of paper, stitched together with fragile threads. With time, these had started coming apart, and I wanted to preserve them with the objective of publishing them as anthologies.
As I typed them, in several of the stories, I could find impressions of my grandmother’s life and persona. However, there was one story that struck me because of the completely different socio-economic milieu it was set in. This short story featured a destitute woman who was crossing over to India from (what was then) East Pakistan in 1947, shortly after Partition. The journey ended in a terrible tragedy for her. I wanted to imagine the life of such a woman after she had safely crossed over to West Bengal. That was the seed of my book.
I didn’t write this book thinking of it as my debut work or anything like that. The story that emerged in my head was compelling enough that I had to write it. One reason for this was the disappointing lack of literature on the Partition of the East. The problems that took place along the Bengal border during the splitting of the nation were different in dimension, nature and scope than those that occurred on the Punjab border. There was a need to highlight these problems, which have continued to affect the succeeding generations of Partition victims such as myself, whose grandparents not only lost all their property and belongings post 1947, but had to completely sever their connection with the land of their birth and youth.
The creative process of writing the book involved years of research, digging out material — both academic and anecdotal in nature — speaking with subject-matter experts and trying to bring it all together via storytelling.
Even before I thought of the plot for Victory Colony, 1950, I knew that Amala was going to be a strong character. Although she’s thrown into the fire pit of the madness that followed Partition, I could see in her the determination to not consider herself a pathetic victim. While much of her journey is dictated by circumstances outside her control, she is able to withstand them with a quiet resolve I have seen in many women who largely remain in the margins of our lives. I’m thinking of the ladies who work as domestic helps in middle class households in Indian cities, for instance. Amala sprang from my imagination, but I’m certain I formed impressions about her from real-life examples I saw around me.
The challenges I faced were similar to what most first-time authors face, I presume. The biggest of these was writing the book itself — mapping out and advancing the plot line; finding authentic sources of information; time management (balancing work, home and writing). Once the draft was completed, the challenge became even more pronounced, as the actual work began only then. This included multiple rounds of editing, looking for agents and publishers, facing rejections and starting all over again. I’m glad that persistence ultimately paid off, as did listening to critical feedback. I can’t forget a few writer friends who reviewed my draft manuscript, helped identify gaps in it and provided constant encouragement to take me to the finish line.
I’m grateful to my publisher and editors, Arpita Das and Tanya Singh for their excellent all-round support throughout the publishing journey of the book.
To The Reader
It’s not for me to predict what each reader will take from this book, but I hope he or she finds in it a tribute to the extraordinary resilience humankind is capable of when faced with extreme hopelessness and deprivation. The book is also about friendship, love and finding loved ones in complete strangers.
The Pandemic and Beyond
I’m fortunate enough to be able to live and work through this time in an environment that allows me to protect myself and my partner. This is a blessing I don’t take lightly as I adjust my routine around the new, evolving pattern. Personally, I haven’t felt a whole lot of change, as working from home was always my dream. I feel that a lot of us are lucky to have access to technology and other tools that help us stay connected even when we can’t meet in person. My reading and writing life has improved dramatically during this period, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. I’m currently working on a non-fiction book on Delhi, India, and a few essays and short fiction pieces.
My Days with Ramkinkar Baij reviewed in Tribune by B. N. Goswamy
For getting close to the man, and to savour the delights of his company, however, one might have to turn to what is virtually a diary written by one of his students, Somendra Bandyopadhyay. Translated from the original Bengali into English and published under the title, My Days with Ramkinkar Baij, the book gets the reader up, close and almost personal to this maverick figure even as one gets to see, as put together by a former pupil, Radhakrishnan, a very large number of his works – sculptures apart, his paintings and drawings – that figure in the account. Ramkinkar comes alive in these pages.
All kinds of figures one encounters in the book – almost naturally, the dominant figures of the Tagores, Rabindranath and Abanindranath; Nandalal Bose, the Mastermoshai; colleagues such as Benodebehari Mukhopadhyay; students like Satyajit Ray, Jaya Appasamy and Dinkar Kowshik and Sharbari Roychowdhry; visiting art historians like Stella Kramrisch. Recorded here are also countless discussions in which Ramkinkar speaks of the western artists whose work he was well aware of and admired – van Gogh, Rodin, Epstein, Henry Moore, among them – and the work in the Indian tradition that he got to know intimately through his travels in the country.
It is all a wonderful mosaic of people and events. But what draws me to the account, more than anything else, is the humanity of the man and his gentle ways that come through. Equally, the way he appears so deeply bonded to the truth of the Earth.
Consider this passage in which one comes upon that wandering minstrel, the baul, Lalon Sain, whom Ramkinkar appears to have known; whom, in fact, he once drew. The bauls – men of god who roam the countryside in Bengal, singing – are not an uncommon sight and many, including Rabindranath, were moved by them and their songs, and brought them into their writings.One day, Somendra Bandyopadhyay writes, ‘Kinkarda’ sat, listening to a Lalon song:
“Everyone asks what is Lalon’s caste in this world
Lalon says: In this life, I couldn’t see what caste looks like.
Circumcision makes one Musalmaan,
But what’s the decree for women then?
On seeing the sacred thread I can recognise Brahmans
But how do I recognize their wives?
Some wear garlands; some adorn their necks with rosaries
Does that change castes?
At the time of coming and going from this world
Who bears the marks of caste?”
As he sat, taking in the words and the cadence of the song, Ramkinkar went absolutely quiet, apparently mulling things in his mind: eyebrows drawn together, lips pursed, eyes closed. “The cigarette in his hand kept diminishing, ash dropping on to the bedsheet, fingers of the hand at the point of getting scorched.”
The account is, however, not all sentiment and agitation of the heart. There are earnest discussions, including those about the merits, even the necessity, of learning by copying, about Mastermoshai’s unique, if simple methods of teaching, the complexities of portraiture and the joy/pain of discovering one’s own mistakes.
Read the rest of the review here
My Days with Ramkinkar Baij reviewed in Asian Age
“Often coffee table glossies are accused of lacking depth, but this book uses the medium of the coffee table to best advantage wherein the works are shown in their glory and the text captures the creator.”
Read the rest of the review here
My Days with Ramkinkar Baij reviewed in Indian Express
“…it’s in Somendranath Bandhyopadhyay’s monumental enterprise (superbly translated from the Bengali by Bhaswati Ghosh) that we can listen to Kinkarda’s distinctive voice and peer over his shoulder, as it were, to catch a glimpse of both the sheer joy and the intense struggle of a creative spirit who has been recognised as the father of modern Indian sculpture.”