Book Review: ‘Madhumoy’ By Sunil Gangopadhyay

Most of the stories we come across are set on a basic formula — there is a straight narrative, i.e., the storyline, and then there are fillers, events and details which complement the narrative. In other words, the narrative serves as skeleton for the story, and the details put flesh on that skeleton to create a complete story. While reading Madhumoy (Bengali) by Sunil Gangopadhyay, I felt a slightly different style of composition. There is a core idea, which Sunil wants to communicate. To convey this idea in fiction rather than non-fiction, he yarns a narrative — a very rich, involved and complex storyline. Finally, there are details to make the narrative seem authentic, realistic and something close to our own everyday experiences. The composition is thus very complex, and if you analyse it in the aforementioned manner and are able to recognise the three ingredients, then you would be able to appreciate this work in all its beauty. Fortunately, it is not difficult.

Sunil Gangopadhyay, Photo Source: YouTube

The narrative of Madhumoy tells us about the friendship of Madhumoy and Swapna which had endured for more than 10 years. They were neighbours, and continued to be friends even after Swapna moved to another locality. Understandably, they grew fond of each other and developed affection and love for each other. However, there was nothing romantic in their relationship in popular terms, as Swapna always resisted Madhumoy’s gestures and approaches. All of Madhumoy’s thoughts, actions and decisions were based on a large part on how Swapna would react.

The core idea of the novel is unemployment. And this part Sunil accomplishes quite successfully. There are aspects of this problem which do not strike our minds at first thought. Our dear leader asks us to sell tea and pakoda if we are not able to find employment. But is it really that simple for educated unemployed? Would any parent allow their graduate son to earn a living that way? Would any girl like to have such a boyfriend or life partner? Would anyone like to marry a girl whose brother sells ball pens and paper soaps in train compartments? This is all about status, the norms set by society. First, the government imparts education to the youth, then it is not able to generate employment to engage those youth, and then forces them into vocations which are frowned upon in society.

Another simple argument pertains to the teaching profession. Some well-wishers suggest you to take up teaching ‘until you find a proper job’. But what if you are neither passionate about teaching nor have the necessary skill to mentor young minds? Won’t it be gross injustice to your students, the young minds whose whole future and life would be shaped by your inspiration or lack of it?

And the particular question which Madhumoy has to face repeatedly is whether to take up a respected job, or take up the wrong path? If earning money is the sole concern, then does it really matter what type of job one does? What if a person earns the same or even more money by decoity, loot or theft?

I have given a basic idea about the core thought of the novel Madhumoy. Let me elaborate upon the story a bit. Madhumoy was educated unemployed, facing all the difficulties associated with it. As is usual in such cases, his unemployment was of supreme interest more to his family, neighbours and relatives than himself. Everybody was ready with taunts, suggestions and rebukes. Yet others continually showered him with job offers. He gave one interview after another, without any success. During this time his uncle managed to grab a job opportunity for him in Mumbai, but Madhumoy was reluctant to go there perhaps because it would take him away from Swapna. He neither accepted nor rejected the offer. Meanwhile, he found himself in the company of other unemployed, good-for-nothing boys, and together they explored ‘other ways’ to make money. They planned to go to some crowded place such as market, railway station or cinema hall and locate a potential victim. Madhumoy’s role was to push the man, causing him to stumble, whereas Dhana and Ratan were supposed to take advantage of the resulting chaos to rob the man of all his belongings. After a misidentification poked his conscience, Madhumoy abandoned this path.

After this, they decided to loot passengers in trains using fake weapons. This plan also failed and after a series of turns they were caught by police. Madhumoy’s uncle — a lawyer — got him bailed out by arranging alibi. Of course, all his family members, friends and Swapna knew that he was culprit. Swapna distanced herself from Madhumoy and asked him never to meet her again. Madhumoy kept on spiralling down, and his financial condition and life in general kept deteriorating. Now two options were open before Madhumoy — either accept his uncle’s offer and appear for interview at the Mumbai job, or return to the wrongful path and make money by illegal means. Madhumoy decided for the latter option.

Finally together with Dhana, Madhumoy planned to steal cars from parking lots. However, he asked for about one month time from Dhana before he would start with the ‘project’. He wanted to wait and see whether Swapna indeed wanted to separate or was it just a passing emotion. Madhumoy and Dhana made a trial, which failed as Madhumoy decided to return the stolen car. Still, Madhumoy made up his mind to continue on this path. In the final scene, Swapna visited Madhumoy and there were apologies, clarifications, and patch up.

The whole story is full of ideas and insight into human psychology, emotions and relationships including love, family and friendships. It is a story nicely told which is reflected in its pace and engaging narrative. Sunil decides not to say the final word himself and leaves it on the readers’ imagination to complete the sequence by their imagination.

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