A small book comprising two short stories and a novella by Krishnagopal Mallick brings queer literature from Bengali to an English-reading audience.
"A Revealing look at Queer Literature from Bengal", translated from Bengali by Niladri R Chatterjee and published Niyogi Books, has an introduction that sheds light on Mallick's life and inclinations.
The translator points out that the author consistently used the 19th century English term 'homosexual' to describe his orientation and not the more recent terms 'gay' or 'queer'. Though married, he was open about his homosexuality and wrote with a frankness that was unusual in his time.
As Chatterjee writes, "What genteel, middle-class Bengali society cannot even imagine thinking about, Mallick sets down in cold print without batting a nervous eye-lid." Mallick's writing takes the reader back to Calcutta of earlier times, when life moved at a gentler pace, while keeping a focus on hidden aspects of daily life.
In his depictions of the mundane and the ebb and flow of daily life, Mallick evoked nostalgia and revealed his deep love for the city. His description of the public spaces of Calcutta as the place where homosexual men encounter each other is revelatory and impressive in its guileless honesty.
The first story "The Difficult Path" depicts an encounter between a middle-aged man and a young boy in the area around College Square. The story explores the emotions of the man who seeks a human connection. The story is also notable for its descriptions of College Square and the different groups of people who frequent it at various times of day and night for their own purposes.
The second story "Senior Citizen" depicts an old man who surreptitiously seeks pleasure and is threatened with dire consequences for his actions.
"Entering the Maze", the novella, with its association of Abhimanyu entering the 'chakravyuh' or maze, is a coming-of-age narrative of a 15-year-old boy discovering his sexuality.
It depicts Calcutta in an earlier time, the protagonist's literary awakening and a series of his sexual encounters during the span of a year.
As Chatterjee writes in the Introduction: "Rarely does one find boyhood represented with this level of unflinching honesty and wonder." He then goes on to add: "Were he alive, Krishangopal Mallick would be a laughing, joking, singing, dancing, swearing, indefatigably prolific and mischievous eight-five-year-old… Instead, his pen stopped drawing scenes of his life and times in 2003.
"The time has come to uphold his work as a major contribution not only to Bengali literature in general, but to Bengali queer literature in particular. He has gathered the dust of homophobic neglect long enough. It is time for him to claim his rightful place in the world of letters."
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