Debarati Mukhopadhyay’s 'Chronicle of the lost daughters' is all about women during Bengal Renaissance

Set in the times of the Bengal Renaissance, the novel explores the socio-cultural politics of late-19th century Bengal.

Published: 10th July 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th July 2022 12:03 PM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

Simply put, translations of regional literature are a gift that keeps on giving. Arunava Sinha’s translation of Narach, the best-selling Bengali novel, is one such addition to the pantheon. The English title of Debarati Mukhopadhyay’s book is Chronicle of the Lost Daughters and is a story about women and everything they had to endure during a certain period of time.

Mukhopadhyay, a popular author of contemporary Bengali literature, has many bestsellers to her name; this book marks her debut in English. Set in the times of the Bengal Renaissance, it explores the socio-cultural politics of late 19th century Bengal. The author adroitly melds historical and fictional characters to give us an absorbing story.

For the main part, we read of the travails of a widow Bhubonmoni, her brother Krishnoshundor who is a Brahmin priest, and their family. Decimated by poverty and circumstances, the family is tricked into journeying to Calcutta. A turn of events for the worse sees some of them leaving for Surinam as indentured labour. Bhubonmoni gets a reprieve though; she enters the household of one of the leading lights of the Brahmo Samaj movement.

Kadambini Ganguly, India’s
first female practising doctor

The Brahmo Samaj, for those who might not know, was a religious reformist movement established in 1828 by Raja Rammohan Roy, together with Dwarakanath Tagore in Calcutta. It comprised progressive liberal people who aimed to bring about a change in customs and mindset. They sought to do away with regressive evil practices like Sati and child marriage by pushing for laws to make it illegal. Being cosmopolitan and modern, they advocated education for women and widow remarriage.

Bhubonmoni’s journey is traced first on the periphery of this movement and then as one of the main figures in it. Moving to reality, the first Indian woman to become a practising doctor, Kadambini Ganguly also appears in the story, and her story is truly an inspiring one.

The other real-life historical character who appears in the story is the Nawab of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah. Banished from his kingdom in Lucknow by the British, he takes refuge in Calcutta. Here, he establishes a mini version of Lucknow in an area called Metiabruz. This area is brought to colourful life by the author. Wajid Ali Shah’s love for music and dance sees both flourishing under his generous patronage and his various liaisons with a variety of women make Metiabruz seem like one large extended family. The place also seems to harbour all sorts of itinerant characters, some having concealed their past history or invented new ones.

The story moves at a brisk pace. Despite being peopled by a large set of inter-connected characters, the plot never feels convoluted or over-blown. The author is able to deftly tie up the different strands. The climax has different characters setting out on perilous journeys, the tension is ratcheted up steadily, and the denouement is bittersweet.

To reiterate, the heart of this story is the women. Whether it is Bhubonmoni, who traverses a hellish path to become the embodiment of a courageous woman, Krishnoshundor’s wife who survives all manner of suffering, or even the striking Kadombini who follows her chosen path with admirable determination, these are women of substance. However, the book also focuses on the indignities and horrors that women living in those times had to endure, and these were many. Child marriage was rampant because the prevailing thought was that the parents and elder brother of an unmarried girl at puberty would go to hell. This in turn gave rise to a rash of child widows. Basically subjected to violence and caste-based oppression, women were treated no better than chattel.

It is in this context that the bravery of the women who dared to break out and chart their own path has to be seen. It is also a testament to the men who were the flag-bearers of reformist movements like the Brahmo Samaj, men who fought to break the shackles of women and give them a decent life.
However, this book is no dry history lesson. It is a story woven with texture and colour, there is an adventure, and there is love and loss. And finally, there is the singular idea that women should strive to be the human embodiment of the weapon called narach. It’s a straight analogy––just like many foes were destroyed by the narach, women have to find it in themselves to fight the various injustices heaped on them. They have to be able to bravely stand up for themselves. Which is an inspiring and uplifting thought for both the women in nineteenth-century Bengal and today.

India Matters


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp