Redundant by Bitan Chakraborty
Reviewed by Sutanuka Ghosh Roy
Awareness grew while reading Redundant by Bitan Chakraborty, translated by Malati Mukherjee into English that much of life is, indeed, about moving on, roads taken, missed, detoured into by choice, covered, or abandoned. At the end of the day to realize that your regrets overweigh your relief is to be hung up by feet, as it were—a recurrent image in Chakraborty’s novella Redundant –and helpless to reverse direction. Redundant is about Kanak and Subho–two characters whom we meet every day but fail to recognize or remember. The subalterns are a community in search of identity hence they perhaps need no surnames. They get lost in the crowd of life. No Atlas records their presence in the pages of life. Kanak is a salesman in a garment shop in Kolkata and Subho works on commission sales for a network company throughout the day and in the evening sells dreams in the form of lottery tickets at Nadu Da’s lottery kiosk. Chakraborty thus focuses on the practices of the subaltern groups and presses that inquiry towards the obdurate presence of subalternity in the central formations and representations. The novella reinforces the value of the subaltern perspective in understanding power in the cities and beyond.
“Kanak laughs as he throws the tiny clay teacup into the waste bucket. ‘Not tomorrow; today’s the holiday!’ It does feel like a holiday after many days. A true holiday. Actually, being happy is in itself a holiday—something he has forgotten after his schooldays”. This insight into the human situation is too dark, too defeatist to be taken earnestly. Hence, the repartee is Chakraborty’s retort to life’s perfidy, so there. The readers are intrigued—how often does a fall disguise itself as a rise—“Subho doesn’t pursue it further. Best not to be too greedy. He’d picked up four deodorants but hasn’t sold a single one. It’s not easy to peddle a 350-rupee deo in impoverished Mahajati”. With the shared trauma of the duo and the resoluteness not to get lost in the big belly of the city, Chakraborty brings in a different perspective on lived experiences and their different outcomes on different people. The subalterns try imposing their idea of freedom on the skin of the city, redefining in their minds their understanding of the word. The images drop little innuendos that the readers can’t but digest the grim with grins. Everybody has a story. “When someone drowns, all that remains is a story around him. No one thinks it necessary to check the veracity of that story”. All our lives are full of stories and Chakraborty is a master storyteller.
The novella is sprinkled with images strewn across thin greys of life, and excerpts of stories with ellipses to fill in. For example, Subho forgets to add salt to the dal, “he just needs a bit of ground to stand on—just a little bit of earth. He has to stand”. Without the presence of family the city of Kolkata, (Mumbai or Delhi for example) remains an unfamiliar and threatening place with little to which one could belong or be protected. After all, routes need a detour and Chakraborty sees life as a rollicking back farce. Both the characters Kanak and Subho strive to have two proper squares of meal they thus enter the purview of the Subaltern studies and considerably inflect the meanings of subservience as well as dominance. Both have come from the villages of Bengal to eke out a presence in Kolkata. They are entrapped by the substantial sums of moveable wealth comprising money, clothes( bridal, formal, etc.), lottery, deodorants, shampoos, and immovable wealth like houses( both are tenants), bequeathed by Saha Babu, Lalu. Chakraborty, therefore, refuses to place the subalterns firmly within a clearly-defined domain. GJV Prasad writes “these characters are motivated by the same desires that motivate the rest of us—to make it, try our best not to end up as losers, at least not in our own eyes”.
“Today Subho has a strong feeling that it is going to be very difficult to stay on in this city…He was not afraid of hard work. And he had left. He hadn’t considered then that losing is also a burden, and although it can be borne, if the weight is too much, it can push you down”. “Kanak had scolded him severely. ‘Is this the attitude with which you’ve come to a big city to find work? Just because you lost one interview, you are so upset?’ Redundant thus remains as the wounded skin of life—rugged, textured with corrosions, striations, fissures, pit, and scabs in a wrestle of desires, hope, and fulfillment. The story of two flat mates ends with the magic light of hope (a welcome change in the translation that was not in the original Bengali novel Haat Kata, 2019) turning the mundane into the transcendental. This is a poignant tale worth every bit of attention.
“Take the lift—you are in no condition to go down the stairs. And why are you rushing like this?’ Subho stands in front of the lift. ‘I have to ensure ma and Baba board the train on time and then rush to Kaku. If I delay…’Kanak is stunned. ‘What do you mean?’ Subho smiles. ‘I will never leave this city—whether I live or die”. Chakraborty reminds his readers that there’s a life clock urging you to move on, the mantra of the millennium. Ace translator Malati Mukherjee is a reader, an interpreter, and a creator all in one. The stunning book cover and evocative illustrations by Pintu Biswas embellish the book. Every reader is sure to find something to take away from Chakraborty’s Redundant.