A gripping tale of fortitude, desperation, persistence and then survival is what best describes Ektara - Strains of a Lonesome String by Tilottoma Majumder that has been translated brilliantly from the original language of Bengali to English by Soma Das.
The story opens on what appears to be a point in the future when protagonist Debarati is reflecting on 7 years of happening with a man in a ‘yellow T-shirt and black shorts’ with whom she’s clearly shared a lot. The book then transports you back to her wedding day, when she leaves everything she’s ever known and walks into a ‘sacrifice’.
From mundane chores to dealing with in-laws, from the taboos of having a job and dreams to cooking meals, the author leads you through a multitude of alleys and dark crevices of Debarati’s mind and life as she attempts to create a niche for herself. All the while, of course, suffering the dominance of a husband (Neel) whom she feels beholden to but not an iota of love. The author even emphasises how it is rather a sum of little domestic issues that from the main problem rather than one large one.
You’re then introduced to a strapping young man named Hritaban, who we learn is Debarati’s first love as a young lady.
Head over heels in love with this man, she appears in the best of spirits and his happy-go-lucky attitude did wonders for this already brilliant girl with dreams higher than the starts.
The plot thickens when they profess love to each other and are seemingly bound forever, but unexpectedly Hritaban walks out on her. Her bright future suddenly turns dark and gloomy matching her mood. This signals the downfall as the spurned love causes her to turn on herself in self-destructive anger. One by one she makes mistakes as she neglects her studies, has a string of meaningless affairs taking pleasure in spurning them too, moves to the big city of Kolkata but all the while feeling empty and desperate. The author then throws light on the social theme of cultural pressure and Debarati relents and marries Neel, in the hope of sorting out her life. But this too is in vain and neither does her domestic life improve nor does her career as a proof-reader and part-time teacher. Finally finding courage to leave Neel, Debarati walks away and finds solace in writing and carves a space for herself in a so-called man’s world. It is here that the author’s writing reaches its peak and the desperation and loneliness of Debarati tugs at the strings of the heart, as she finds herself successful but no one to share this joy with.
Cleverly weaving in the past with the present, Majumder spins a tremendous tale of unyielding determination to prove one’s self. The language is simple yet striking and will have you wanting to cry and laugh as the characters do. This tale of heartbreak and struggle shows that the quest for happiness is like chasing a shooting star - it goes in and out of sight but cannot be caught.