Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Parashuram's Selected Stories, reviewed by Shaheen Saeed

This elegant book published by Penguin Books presents a unique collection of Short Stories (seventeen of them) translated by Sukanta Chaudhuri and Palash Baran Pal. The author Rajshekhar Bose who wrote under the pseudonym "Parashuram" was a Scientist, a Corporate Executive and went on to become one of the most eminent Bengali humorists of the 20th Century. Rajshekhar Bose’s works are known for their satirical and humorist style.

Here Sukanta Chaudhuri and Palash Pal have translated his Bengali stories - Eight have been translated by Sukanta Chaudhuri, and nine stories by Palash Baran Pal.

The book bears excellent introduction by Sukanta Chaudhuri, where he delves into the author’s background, and gives us a bird’s eye view of the life and times of Parashuram’s story lines, and details of settings where the stories have been written. Both translators have retained many of the original words in Bengali/Hindi in an effort to retain its realistic vein (but in italics). For some readers this may be extremely useful, but for others it could become a distraction.

Rajshekhar Bose (1880-1960) - himself a well known personality in Bengal, was a man of letters through his vast contributions to Bengali literature. He compiled the first (and perhaps the only one of it’s kind) Bengali Dictionary – Chalantika. It is a much sought after reference book for scholars even to this day. Though true recognition of his work came a bit late in his life, he rose to become one of the most eminent writers of Bengal. He was awarded The Padma Bhushan in 1956 .

His stories capture the changing patterns of society in Bengal, spanning forty years – a period from 1920 - the British India to 1960 – the Independent India . The genres he covers in his short stories are a nice mix: mystery, socio economical, political, and pure fiction. And all his characters are powerful and vivid creations of his written words. He creates such intense images of his characters, that you feel they are a familiar part of events happening around you. His story line is simple, but the reading is tough. I had to read some stories twice to understand its layers and the overwhelming situations.

The author seems to draw his story lines from reality in his fiction, and from experiences of his own life; yet he is not really very realistic. His stories are a strange mingling of realism and fictitiousness, because his style is comical and satirical. Some of his story subjects are deep and intense with vivid descriptions of characters and situations that gives a peek into the social scenario of Bengal. His stories have all been set in Bengal, and serve as a window to the history of Bengali customs and culture.

This collection of 17 stories, consists some of his best comic writings.

The first story in this collection ‘Shri Shri Siddheshwari Limited’ was published in 1922. It is also the author’s first ever published work. It is supported by some excellent sketches of the characters, created by the author with his words, by artist Jatindrakumar Sen, as in many other stories. These simple illustrations of various scenes and characters within the story bear distinct resemblance to each other providing continuity and a raw diversion to its readers. I am glad they have retained the sketches rather than replacing them with photographs. ‘Shri Shri Siddheshwari Limited’ is also my best story.

Some of his stories have distinct flavors, with discrete subjects and would be worth a mention here:

‘Choosing a husband’ is a light story that is a typical mix of the British scenes and Bengali culture. ‘All in a Night’ throws light on the Bengali youth culture during that era, and also reflects the young people’s unchanging aversion to parental authority, specially when choosing their life partners. ‘The Magic Stone’ is pure fiction, with subtle mention of connections from the political scenario of Russia, and Britain. It also bears a strong moral message. ‘Conversations With Akrur’ is a highly recommended read. The humor and satire, which is in fact the author’s renowned forte’ is neatly wrapped in subtlety and sarcasm here as Mr Akrur Nandi is a wealthy & elite gentleman.

The sketch used on the cover of this volume is from the comedy ‘A Medical Crisis’ .

A concluding observation is perhaps in order here: As is evident, all his stories convey the author’s rural experiences in his inimitable, subtle, comic and humorous style.

It is a must read book, specially for people whose interests lie in cultural history of Bengal, India. It can easily qualify or may become a strong contender for ‘International Man Booker Prize’ if they have a category for translated writers.

I feel privileged to have found this mine of humorous short stories, thanks to Penguin Books (India) for their theme ‘Blog a Penguin India Classic’ who sent me this beautiful review copy. Many thanks for also trusting me to write a review of the book. I honestly loved reading the Selection of Short Stories by Parashuram.


  1. Interesting review... I am fascinated by the British Raj in India - espcecially in Calcutta, and am constantly researching online on these topics. This book is now on my list. I'll post my thoughts after reading it.

  2. Thanks for your views on my review FF..! I am sure you will find plenty of information on real life, society, customs and culture of British India specially at the time when it was in transition from Company Raj to Independence. Calcutta was then a hot seat of all things changing..!!

    Good luck..!

  3. Will be waiting for your 'come back thoughts' on the book after reading it.

  4. Hi Shaheen - thanks for taking part in the Blog a Penguin India Classic initiative, and for your fascinating review on Parashuram's Selected Stories, it certainly sounds like several interesting tales of Bengali culture and way of life.

    Keep your reviews coming in, and if you've not done so already, please sign-up soon to receive your free Penguin India Classic!

  5. it's a very nice book of stories

  6. A fantastic review of the Parshuram s selected
    stories Iam sure of going through it and afcourse come back to you

  7. Being a blog, this was perhaps spared the editor's pencil - the review was a bit longish and a little re-aarangement could have removed the spiral effect. A very good review nevertheless from what I expect is an amateur.

  8. great review! books, especially fiction, written about that time in history are very interesting and the review does justice to this genre while not giving too much away.

  9. @ Penguin India:
    Many thanks for this opportunity, indeed. I loved reading the book, and writing the review. I am certainly interested in writing more reviews, if I may; and look frwrd to doing that.
    Thanks again.

    @ anonymous: (1)
    Thank you for your comment.

    @anonymous: (2)
    I am glad you are planning on reading the book. I am sure you'll find it very informative about the life and times it is written in. Good luck.

    @ imt:
    Yes, indeed an amateur's attempt at review writing that too, a great writer's book! I will try to keep in mind your suggestions about the length and re-arrangement of my review in future. I am glad to receive your inputs. Thank you.

    @ FS

    Glad you liked the review! Thanks for your comments.

  10. Very well written! Its intriguing. I think this review has incited enough interest for me to get my hands on a copy of the book. Hope its a good read.
    Keep up the good work!

  11. great review ...i am definately goin to read the book ...there could not have been a better review ....

  12. @ Mariyam:
    Thanks, indeed. I am glad you are thinking of reading the book and I am sure you will love reading it as much as I did.

    Thank you so much for your kind words.