Buddhadeva Bose. My Kind of Girl. Arnuava Sinha, tr. Brooklyn, New York. Archipelago. 2010. 138 pages. $15. ISBN 978-0-9826246-1-6
With Buddhadeva Bose’s My Kind of Girl, Archipelago Books adds a prominent Indian Bengali author to its unique catalog of “classic and contemporary world literature,” which already includes translations from twenty-five other languages. Arunava Sinha’s agile version of this short novel, originally published in india in 2008, makes it accessible to a wider audience, both in its native country and abroad. The classically simple structure, consisting of a framing narratie punctuated by four flashbacks, is highlighted by cinematically sharp and sparing prose, visually poignant and tersely apt to convey the moral of the tale. Four middle-aged men–a contractor, a government official, a medical doctor, and a writer–are forced to spend a winter night together in the waiting room of a railway station, when an accident along the line blocks all train traffic until the next morning. While the four strangers are trying to figure out the best way to adapt to the circumstances, a young couple opens the door, stands on the threshold for a few moments, and then leaves. Clearly newlyweds, they are lost in their love for each other and oblivious of everything else. Their sudden appearance and retreat prompts the four men to comment on this blissful yet short-lived condition, “the most amazing part of this amazing illusion”–in the writer’s words–that is life itself. As the discussion takes a more confessional turn, the four travelers engage in teling their own stories of youthful love, illusion, and delusion. Predictably enough, each one of them concerns a woman, and the teller’s particular relation to her–or more precisely, the relevance and significance that such a relationship acquires in retrospective. Each of these relationships, in fact, represents a turning point in the narrator’s life (although we hear the man’s version only), often disguised as a failure, a defeat, or a loss.
Although encouraged by one another, the four men quickly become their own audience, while the waiting room, first described as a “comfortless island,” morphs into an underground cave, an otherworld where the men are taken by their own recounting, and where they seem to remain in a trance fo reminiscence and regret until, released from this spell, they reemerge to the surface of their ordinary life. Caught in a sort of cathartic process, they strive to decipher “the invisible writing of the past,” and what comes back to haunt and illuminate each one of them is not the memory of a long-lost love, but the way in which such an event changed their lives forever. The question is not what did or did not happen, but what could have happened, and why it happened this and not another–any other–way. It is a classical question, and one that nurtures anxiety and obsession, the twin vultures of middle-aged man.
By the time the fourth and final story ends, it is dawn and the station is stirred back to life by the news of an approaching train. The four men, walking out of their trance, leave the room and board the train as perfect strangers. Only the writer remembers the fateful young couple and, suddenly recognizing them huddled together on the busy platform, tries to retain a glimpse of this illusion as the train rolls out of the station. More significantly, perhaps, by the time the reader emerges from the cave of confession and deception, the writer has become the Writer, and his auctorial voice is what eventually guides us through the bustle of the platform and out of the story. And in this subtle transformation lies perhaps the simplest truth of this finely tuned little novel in whcih Bose, writing at a critical moment in the history of his country, clarifies and claims the indispensable role of art and iterature in society.