Jayant Kripalani’s New Market Tales is a ‘Jhaal Moori’ that any Calcuttan would like to relish once in a while. For the non-Calcuttans, this book can be a brusque insight into the city. With a perfect blend of architecture, freshly-baked bread, some seven cats, NRIs, the iconic sleeping Bong, strong feminine protests, rum and river, golf and pubs, the chatter and the complex relationships, it takes us through an assorted experience. Short and crisp, this book makes Calcutta of the 1960s and 1970s come alive.
The stories in the book are set at the time when the charm that was once created by the British still lingered on in the lanes around the iconic New Market in Central Calcutta. The short stories weave the experiences and lives of inhabitants of the area.
The innocence in the story Francis and the eroticism in Anila are diverse enough to indulge us into the much complex and beautifully-knit relationships. There are interesting characters who reflect the quintessential Bengalee. Rathiklanta, nick-named ‘Atiklanta’, is one such character—a man who loves to sleep. But, even in his sleep and ‘extremely tired’ persona, he manages to set vehicles ablaze in Darjeeling.
One of the most intriguing stories is Zack’s, which sees a roller coaster ride of Sati G, who sees life transform as nations and neighbours develop cracks. From an innocent daughter she metamorphoses into a ‘dishonourable’ woman but all with her head held high. The best story of the lot, Zack’s talks of the nightlife that people love and love to hate.
Anustup and Mamlu also bring out a beautiful and complicated relationship that discovers the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. Monogamy is questioned and so are the lives and secrets of Calcutta.
An influence of advertisement industry is clearly visible in the poetry, and feminists can take it with a pinch of salt. Humour in Mita and Mesho is just like one would experience in advertisements of the day. While Mita’s lost and found love lingers on and Homi goes on to ‘avoid all things that are feminine’. In all these stories the Calcutta experience is very authentic and nostalgic.
Gopa is a daughter who will voice her opinions and wage a war against her father; the Bengalee feminist has her peers to support her and will not rest till she gets a logical answer. The bhadrolok (gentlemen) in this story are not shy of suggesting about lingerie to girls. The most explosive of content can be said in a sweet monotone and would not offend any one. In fact, Gopa learns the nuances of sales from one such fellow at her father’s shop. Gender sees many ups and downs in this book.
If there is something that weaves these stories into a necklace, it is not just the New Market, it is also the Bengalee attitude that deals with diverse situations and tries to find peace in poetry, words, friendship and the rich culture. If you like boat rides near the Howrah, a whiff of romance might hit you.