short takes
Intriguing, funny and tragic tales
Randeep Wadehra

Mapmaking: Partition stories from two Bengals
Ed Debjani Sengupta Amaryllis. Pages: xx+207. Rs 295

Mapmaking: Partition stories from two BengalsUnlike Punjab, the Bengal region has experienced three partitions, which impacted its history and worldview. The 1905 partition was done for "administrative reasons," although it was resisted by Hindus and welcomed by Muslims. The second partition was the result of bifurcation of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947 on religious grounds – giving credibility to Jinnah’s two-nation theory. The same theory stood discredited in 1971, when the Bengali East Pakistan seceded from the Punjabi-dominated West Pakistan, thus consummating the third "Partition" that was brought about by cultural, ethnic and linguistic factors. This excellently translated collection has stories pertaining to the 1947 Partition from both sides of the Indo-Bangladesh border. Ritwik Ghatak’s The Road portrays the dissolution of its Muslim character’s anger after he meets an old displaced woman from East Pakistan who now occupies his house in Calcutta. But are very few stories about Hindu-Muslim animosity. Some, like Bandopadhyay’s The Final Solution, show how Hindu refugees – especially – women among them were exploited by fellow Hindus in Calcutta; its protagonist Mallika violently rebels against the exploiters. However, Basu’s Flotsam and Jetsam, depicts women as helpless, gullible and timid vis-`E0-vis sexual predators among their coreligionists, and are portrayed as major sufferers. This anthology has tales of pregnant women dying while giving birth in railway compartments even as they flee to India; or, of being disowned by their kin and left to fend for themselves. Another story, Sengupta’s Alam’s Own House, shows how the propertied classes were able to exchange houses and thus retain their wealth to a large extent; this story is also tinged with unrequited Hindu-Muslim love. This tome’s various narratives present insights into human reactions to variegated adverse situations arising in the wake of the 1947 partition.

Two Fates: the story of my divorceTwo Fates: the story of my divorce
By Judy Balan Westland. Pages x+199. Rs 150

Deepika is Tamil and Rishab Punjabi. She works for an ad agency and dreams of becoming either a full-fledged writer or a psychotherapist; he is a well-placed IITian with ambitions of becoming a novelist. Both fall in love and marry after overcoming the inevitable objections from their respective families. Soon the rose-tinted blinkers are off. Their sex life becomes loveless. They start getting irritated over those very shortcomings in one-another which they used to find so endearing earlier.

They decide to get divorced, but realise that their respective families have fallen in love with each other! Worse, a Tamil lad and a Punjabi lass from their extended families become serious about tying the knot. To further complicate matters, they are sent to the United Kingdom on their second honeymoon for "making babies." The Rightful Owner The narrative is fast, spiced up with humour. There are some memorable characters like the flirty Reshu periamma and the snooty Mehtas. Keeps you chuckling right till the end.

The Rightful Owner
By Charandeep Singh Frog Books. Pages 186. Rs 150

Wilbur Smith works in London. He does not have any blood relations. One day he learns that he does have a relative, an uncle, who has bequeathed some coins to him in his will. When he goes to attend his funeral he meets a lady named Martha who turns out to be his aunt. She gives him a diary written by their "common ancestor," MJ Smith, who happened to be an Army Officer in India where he became friendly with an Indian sepoy named Nihal; further, MJ meets Bhagatji who gives him some coins with Persian inscriptions –the same coins are bequeathed to Wilbur. The narrative moves among different time zones and places ranging from the World War II France to the Independence-eve Indian subcontinent to the present-day UK and India.