By Sunil K Poolani
The title of the book could not have been more apt. Like silverfish that nibbles away precious printed words, leaving a whitish trail,
Silverfish is melancholic testimony of a debauched land (in this case
Though Majumdar has a cogitative and distinguished style, the novel in question is quite remorse and disturbing most times. The novel oozes of sadness throughout and a reader is forcibly dragged into a web of hopelessness and dejection, most of the time sympathising with the shadow characters in play — be it the early eighteenth century in which Kamal’s story is set or of the present-day
In fact, the City of
This is the present-day Marx-loving, IMF-hating
Revolving around his life are some great characters although all of them remain just sketches: Ila and Gutam, Milan’s ever-suffering and uncomplaining wife and son; Sabeer and Moidul, a sorry Muslim family who were targeted by political goons; Shirin, a US-based student who remains Milan’s only hope (for selling a ‘rare’ manuscript that could make him rich) in the twilight of his uneventful life.
Now coming to the parallel plot, that of Kamal, she is married off to a middle-aged man from the richest family in
It is early eighteenth century and though the orthodox beliefs (barbaric, nevertheless) are still in vague, it is also the time of social enlightenment: abolishment of widow burning being the highlight. So when Kamal is in her twenties and her husband, who had several wives and concubines, dies due to an amoral lifestyle of wine and women, Kamal does not have to join her husband in his pyre, alive. But the life she was instead offered is equally, if not more, gruesome: living a life of abstinence from meat and sex, cooking her own food and wearing white clothes with a tonsured ahead.
What makes Kamal’s life roll ahead is her life-long love and devotion to her son, Sushil (who is shot by the British police for protesting against their policies), and her perennial thirst to read and decipher letters that is a strict no-no in the badralok family she belongs to.
Silverfish, no doubt, is a brilliant debut and as Amit Chaudhuri says in the endorsement, “this is a book to cherish for a very long time, for its descriptions and evocations as well as for what it tells us about the ebb and flow of human expectations.”
I have two minor complaints. One, the two narrations in the book (that of