I have reviewed a book by Sunil Gangopadhyay earlier on this blog. It was the first volume of his three-volume collection of short stories. In that post, I had mentioned characteristics of Sunil’s writing style. Also, my analysis of his interpretation of Who Broke Kanishka’s Head continues to be the most read article on my blog. Recently I had an opportunity to read a short novel by him titled Khela, and would share its narrative and my opinion with you.
The protagonist pair Paritosh and Kajori was separated by an age-difference of about 20 years. Paritosh had retired from composing musical scores in movies. Most of his contemporaries Salil Chowdhury, Sachin Deb Burman and Hemant Mukherjee had moved to Kolkata, whereas Paritosh had stayed back in Mumbai. Here he lived alone in an apartment taking food from a nearby restaurant.
When a teenager, Kajori was infatuated with Paritosh, and ‘explored her youth’ through him, though he never allowed themselves to cross the limits imposed by society. Kajori was then married off, the marriage failed, she was married again, the second marriage also failed, and now she was in relationship with another man Biman — a married man with a child. Biman planned to divorce his present wife and then to marry Kajori. The plan was complicated by Biman’s wife who refused to divorce him. Kajori and Biman moved to Mumbai and approached Paritosh ‘as guest’. You don’t have to be a rocket engineer to understand their motive — after all why else would a person, who hadn’t chosen to stay in touch with you for the last 25 years, suddenly write to you and turn up at your door as guest!
They received a cold reception from Paritosh, who didn’t appear to be polite or showing proper hospitality, though agreeing to offer them accommodation until they find some place. He refused to take any rent or any monetary benefit from them. Some trivial events and happenings caused unrest in Biman’s mind who got more and more annoyed at Paritosh’ behaviour. Several times Biman thought of leaving the house permanently, but couldn’t as he had nowhere else to go. At the same time, he also became vocal in his jealousy and taunted Kajori for her past infatuation with Paritosh and blamed her for staying there in spite of all the humiliation they were subjected to.
To cut the long story short, one fateful day Biman died by drowning in the swimming pool of a club. Kajori was once again left alone and came back to Paritosh. Would Paritosh welcome Kajori in his apartment, and if so, then what would be the nature of their relationship? Will the relationship be built on the suppressed embers of past relationship long dead but never forgotten, or would it be based on the present day predicament of two unfortunate, lonely souls? Would it be acceptable in terms of social ethics considering it as two lonely people seeking solace in each other’s company or would it be scorned upon as taking advantage of someone’s unfortunate situation. But above all, if indeed the hero loved the lady and had deep affection for her, why did he earlier treat her and Biman so rudely and indifferently? These are the questions which are put and also resolved by Sunil in this short novel. Marking a shift from his style of short stories, here he presents a fast-paced narrative, exploring complex human relationships in all their shades — love, infatuation, jealously, loneliness. Though it does not appear explicitly anywhere in the novel, one feature stands out in this novel — Sunil does not shy away from accepting human weaknesses and biases, as also its strengths and virtues. In other words, he speaks of all follies in a straight, matter-of-fact manner, neither exaggerating, nor condemning nor appreciating any of them. Whether you agree with his thoughts or perspective or not, in all probability, you will like the novel for its description of another shade of the colourful human psychology and behaviour. It is neither verbose nor superficial. You can give it a try.