Widows of Bengal


“Her unadorned face with a parting free of sindoor and a simply worn white sari indicated her to be a young widow. Something in her appearance impacted Dipen.

 Dipen could recall his aunt becoming a widow when he was a mere seven or eight, she had her hair cut short and seemed perpetually in a complaining and cantankerous mood. She was required to observe strict fast on certain days and Dipen still remembered how she would secretly beg him for moa or naru, homemade Bengali sweets. Considered inauspicious, Dipen’s aunt was barred from participating in joyous occasions; to everyone around she personified inconvenience and this showed up in the insensitive behaviour of family members towards her. Dipen was too young to understand the ramifications but as he grew older, he could sense the unforgiving and interminable despair that his aunt’s life had represented.”

Snippet: In the early twentieth century, the plight of widows in Bengal continued to be terrible, arising from customs and social ostracization.Even though remarriage of widows had been made legally permissible from mid-nineteenth century, largely due to the efforts of the Brahmin social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, society continued to frown on all such attempts.

Once the husband died , the torture of his wife began. It was as if Lord Yama of the netherworld was taking away her soul. Even when she had to endure the grief of her husband’s death, society somehow held her ‘responsible’ for the death and even her closest relatives could not come to console her. A woman whose husband had died was thus like a living corpse. She had no rights in the home and had to remain as a slave to other family members. 

The above extract is from the story Pandemic, a part of my forthcoming book, ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories’.

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#goodread,#mindopener.

Bangalore and the Lie!


The Bangalore Skyline

‘One Saturday evening, Anjan suggested, “How about going to the pub and having some chilled beer? The treat is on me”.

But that evening Rohit was not enthusiastic, “I would have loved to Anjan, but it is a colleague’s birthday and I need to attend the party”.

 Anjan with a few other friends decided to go for Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park which was being screened at Rex Theatre on Brigade Road. Being a night show, getting tickets was not a problem and the group soon sank back into the plush seats in air-conditioned comfort, each with a tub of popcorn. The lights were still on. As Anjan looked around, he got a shock. A few rows ahead, he saw Rohit sitting with a girl, their heads leaning towards each other. Anjan could hardly believe his eyes.  Rohit, his closest friend, his buddy, had lied to him!’

Snippet: The name “Bangalore” was given by the British as an anglicized version of the original Kannada name Bengaluru. As the legend goes, Veera Ballala II, the most famous king of the Hoysala dynasty (twelfth century), while on a hunting expedition, lost his way in the forest. Tired and hungry, he came across a poor old woman who served him boiled beans. The grateful king named the place “bend-kaal-uru” (literally, “town of boiled beans”), which eventually evolved into Bengaluru.

 Bangalore is widely regarded as the “Silicon Valley of India”. A cosmopolitan city, it  is the second fastest-growing major metropolis in India. The iconic Rex Theatre on Brigade Road downed its shutters for good on first January 2019 after entertaining Bangalore folks for seventy eight years.

The city of Bangalore and Rex Theatre feature in the story Fault Lines, a part of my forthcoming book, ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories ’. www.shaktighosal.com

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The Black Hole of Calcutta


Fort William on the Hooghly 1757 Artistic depiction

“Jim with a few of his soldiers stood surrounded by a large contingent of the Nawab’s forces. Soon Jemmaatdaars shepherded the Captain Commandant with soldiers and civilians into a small room. This is when the horror began.

Packed like sardines in the room, delirious from lack of air and acrid smoke from the burning godowns filling their lungs, the prisoners started feeling suffocated and begged the guards for water. In their despair, they started offering whatever money they had to the Nawab’s guards outside. “One thousand rupees! Two thousand rupees!”

Though finding it difficult to breathe himself, Jim passed the little water that was brought in to others using his hat. But in the frenzy that ensued with the prisoners struggling to get to the window, most of the water was spilled. Worse, people were getting trampled.

Jim shouted over the ravings and rantings, “Gentlemen, we need to help each other, we need to keep our heads if we are to survive this night”.

He could dimly see a Captain frothing at the mouth and collapsing. Jim himself was losing consciousness from the heat and exhaustion. As he slowly crumpled in a heap on the ground, strangely enough the last image which fluttered across his mind’s eye was the suffused glow of the pearl and emerald necklace he had glimpsed briefly the previous night.”

Snippet: After the fall of East India Company’s Fort William to Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah’s forces on 20th June 1756, the surviving English soldiers, Indian sepoys along with some civilians were rounded and locked up in a small room for the night. Next morning only twenty odd prisoners had survived, the remaining around forty to sixty having perished from exhaustion, suffocation and stampede. The incident came to be known as the Black Hole tragedy of Calcutta and directly led to the British seeking revenge by overthrowing Siraj Ud Daulah as the Nawab of Bengal by defeating him at the Battle of Plassey the following year.

The fall of Fort William and the Black Hole Tragedy feature in the story ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly’, part of my forthcoming book of the same name.

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