Book Review: ‘Khela Noy’ By Sunil Gangopadhyay

In my review of Sunil Gangopadhyay’s short stories, I had remarked about their having no plot. Still, I am particularly impressed by his narrative and description. With very little glamour and paraphernalia, he is able to present complete, simply narrated and deep stories. When the description itself is simplified, without exaggerated emotions or figures of speech, the readers are let free to discover and explore all the underlying emotions on their own. Another characteristic I am noticing with every new reading of Sunil Gangopadhyay is that he does not shy away from expressing thoughts, biases or emotions — however ugly or socially unacceptable they might be. He considers them, accepts and acknowledges them as a matter of fact, neither boasting nor feeling shy or ashamed of them. In other words, he accepts strengths as well as weaknesses of humans, but neither supports them nor opposes them. This helps him in looking at every thought, problem or idea from different perspectives, most of which are unbiased, thus providing a balanced comprehension.

Sunil Gangopadhyay, Photo Source: YouTube

After reading some of the short stories by Sunil, I was particularly impressed by his writing and thoughts, and wanted to explore other works. I started with smaller works before going for his magnum opus Sei Somoy, or may be Pratham Alo or Purbo Paschim. After reading and reviewing his novel Khela, the next in line was Khela Noy (Bengali) which can be translated into English as ‘It’s Not A Play’. This novel is different in all ways from his short stories in that it has a well drafted and clear-cut plot — the narrative switches from one scene to another, from one possibility to the other and ends at the climax in a very applaudable manner. The plot consists of two sub-plots with no connection between them. Well, if you insist on having some connection, then I would say that both the plots deal with, or rather question, social norms via-a-vis human relationships. It questions friendship vs romance, particularly when the latter would be considered illicit according to social norms, and also human love and compassion in light of sexuality. Both these questions need to be elaborated for clarity, perhaps with a little description of the narrative.

First question is this — can a man and a woman be in love though not been tied in a wedlock? I am not saying ‘just friendship’, instead real love made up of mutual admiration, respect and emotional attachment, though devoid of any type of physical involvement. The man was young and unmarried, the woman was married to his friend and had a son. Well yes, according to social norms, such a relationship would indeed be termed illicit and frowned upon, but is it indeed so? Is it wrong to seek emotional support and comfort in the company of someone you admire? I don’t know, perhaps neither does the writer. This is the story of this young unmarried man Dheeman, living alone in a flat. This is also the story of Vibha, the aforementioned woman who was married to Subhas and has son Bapi. You also get to know the couples Subimal-Trisha and Aneesh-Seema. The cobweb of interactions and connections between these characters is quite involved, but Sunil does not bog you down with too many details. He trusts your imagination, gives just a hint in a short sentence or a dialogue and knows that you would understand the whole equation. There is also Shekhar who had been married twice, both marriages having failed. Once Vibha received a threatening call from an unknown number telling her that the caller knows her relationship with Dheeman, and giving her two options — either stop seeing Dheeman and tell everything to her husband Subhas, or else he would tell the whole story to her son Bapi. In short, her whole life would be turned upside down or rather ruined. He kept on calling nearly every night, each time using very obscene and vulgar language. Vibha told Dheeman about the calls, and in the rest of the novel Dheeman considered the possibility of each person in his circle to be the caller, and finally reached the culprit.

The question put through the second sub-plot is somewhat related to the first question. It is very simple in statement but complicated when you start thinking about it, and tells the story of nearly every bachelor man in Indian society. As I mentioned earlier, Dheeman used to live alone in a flat, and an old maid used to come once in the morning for doing the cleaning and washing dishes etc. He had chosen an old maid lest the neighbours get interested. He used to keep the door open, lest the neighbours suspect something fishy. He almost never invited his girl-friends to his flat, not even Vibha, lest the neighbours get curious. Once the old maid fell sick, and sent her niece to work. This girl was about 17-18 years old and was called Himani and had a nickname Inu. Dheeman’s all precautionary measures were thus thrown out of window and he became very nervous and anxious. To save his social position, he asked Inu not to come. At the same time, Dheeman was touched by Inu’s simplicity, grace and manners, and had a hunch feeling that she came from a respected family and was not used to working as a domestic help. Perhaps she was forced into this job because of financial difficulties. He talked to his friend Aneesh, to get some job for Inu so that she could live respectably and did not have to waste her life this way. At the same time, he requested him not to let her know that it was Dheeman who was actually helping her. Aneesh managed to arrange a job for Inu as an assistant to veteran actress Banani, and through her she got her first break in movies. But why didn’t Dheeman want to reveal his name as the mentor or benefactor to Inu’s career? Mainly, he was nervous that his name would be connected with Inu, thus causing embarrassment and shame to both of them. Aneesh had agreed reluctantly, wondering whether Dheeman would have done the same if it were a boy instead of Inu. They planned it in such a way that would make it appear that Inu was ‘selected’ for the job after screening, and that it was not directed solely at her. Aneesh’ wife Seema confronted Dheeman suggesting him to come out in open and stand by Inu’s side. Her argument was simple, straight and the same — would Dheeman have acted the same way if it were a boy instead of Inu? ‘It is not a game/play, it is a matter of a girl’s life‘, she says, and this dialogue makes the title of the novel. Inu would always want to know who her benefactor was and would get enormous moral support and strength if Dheeman was physically present and standing next to her. You have to explore the novel in order to know how the plot evolved and what did Dheeman decide. I would only say that reading this novel is every bit worth the effort. Khela Noy does not contain much emotional melodrama. In fact, Sunil uses as few words and sentences as is necessary to paint the complete picture. The plot and narrative are simple and concise, and the main takeaway are the thought-provoking ideas that the novel offers and proposes.

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