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‘The manner in which the three women bonded gave him a sense of the miracle the camaraderie of women could be, regardless of their husbands and histories.’
‘But the ink they stamped on paper failed to arrest the flow of blood on the ground.’
Bhaswati Ghosh’s Victory Colony 1950 is a story set between 1949-1951 in the aftermath of Partition, which saw communal riots in East Bengal force a large number of its citizens to flee the country and seek refuge in the neighbouring land.
The premise of the novel revolves around a particular refugee camp at Gariahata in Calcutta, and how a portion of the refugees sequestered there take it upon themselves to seize a vacant lot of a zamindar, and set up their own society, eventually named Bijoy Nagar— the titular Victory Colony.
The focus, in particular, is on Amala Manna who loses her young brother soon after arriving at the bustling Sealdah Station. Distraught and inconsolable, she is herded along with the rest of the refugees by the Gariahata camp volunteer leader, Manas Dutta. What follows after is a story of hope and survival in bleak times, and a love story involving Manas and Amala.
‘Often what was in the plain view didn’t make for real seeing.’
Despite the title, the setup of Bijoy Nagar happens in the background and the reader is provided a passive knowledge of it, summarized in a few pages. Pre-Bijoy Nagar, the novel gives a gist of the atrocities the camp dwellers had to endure on both sides of the border.
Families had been torn apart, lost to bloodshed and inhumanity which had been witnessed firsthand by the surviving members and which would continue to haunt them for ages to come, even if the outward expression simmered. ‘With time, her horror slowly morphed into grief. Her loud wails turned into sobs no one heard…’
Over the course of the story, the survivors form an unbreakable bond amongst themselves which reignites their desire for life and living. ‘The manner in which the three women bonded gave him a sense of the miracle the camaraderie of women could be, regardless of their husbands and histories.’
Soon as the Colony is built to the bare minimum, the focus shifts to the brewing affection between the two protagonists. What begins as a slow courting soon turns into a rush of too many things happening one after another. In the last four chapters one begins to feel detached from the same, regardless of the emotions encapsulated. More than once, Amala is robbed of the agency of weighing in on the decisions which involved her. Up till that point, after months of coping with dire refugee conditions, she had done a fine job of carving a life for herself on her own terms, inspired by and supported by other women of Bijoy Nagar. ‘To Amala, they typified how one claimed a city with hard labour and love.’ It was disconcerting to see her lose a say in the matter after all that.
In her debut novel, the author brings alive the Calcutta of that era. From the raw, visceral and delicate conditions of the refugee camp dwellers to the posh mansion of Manas, Bhaswati Ghosh captures the sounds, the smells, and the scenery almost to perfection. The same detailing, however, is missing with the many, many characters the book deals with. Even the psyches of both the protagonists fall short of being fleshed out. None of them quite manage to leap out of the pages.
Rich with dialogues peppered with Bengali words and phrases, Bengali snacks and delicacies, Victory Colony 1950 envelops one with the love the author carries for Calcutta and her own roots. Besides becoming immersed in the city, beware of the incessant craving you will develop for tea (says the reviewer while sipping her second cup of the brew).
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Image source: a still from the film Meghe Dhaka Tara and book cover Amazon
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Clumsy. Awkward. Straight-forward. A writer, in progress. A pencil sketch artist by hobby.
IG: @leesplash read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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