‘Dark Afternoons’ is English translation by Nandini Guha of Bani Basu’s Bangla novel Kharap Chele (The Fallen Man) . The novel explores relationships in an entirely new setup. A traditional Bengali household is shaken by its chance encounter with the dark recesses of Kolkata red light zone – Sonagacchi.
The novel challenges the orthodoxy in a subtle manner.The revolt coming from demure baro bouma– Mallika and livewire chotto bouma-Jina, with their shashur Kalyan De Sarkar providing them the much needed moral support, redefines the relationships in a hitherto unknown way.
This novel solidified my belief that God has created every human being as equal. None of us has a license to dictate others lives. Each one of us is free to take his own decisions and live life in the way he or she desires. In India, often the girls are shown a rosy picture of married life, a belief is instilled in them from a very young age, that they would be able to do justice to themselves only if they could prove to be good daughters, wives or mothers. The identity of the girl gets lost in all these roles. She herself starts sacrificing her own wishes, in the name of peace and harmony of her home. A home, which is actually never hers, but her father’s or husband’s.
But, Bani Basu has made a good attempt in challenging the restricted freedom of Indian women, exposing some of the hidden secrets of the family and the torment a woman undergoes for continuing her family life. The man, whom she loves with utmost sincerity, does not even care about her wishes. He is least bothered about her desires and just wants her to be a slave of his whims and fancies. The women of this strory, timid Mallika, optimistic Jina, and Sonagacchir bold Bonomala, break the myth that a woman is weak and always needs a man to support her. By their path breaking actions, they reiterate feminism in an entirely new light.
Nandini in the English translation, has retained some of the bangla words, which give a fresh regional flavour to an otherwise serious story. At some instances, the novel gets a bit too sermonic and too much emphasis is put on the social taboos and the urgent need for revolution and the upliftment of the society. However, overall Dark Afternoons is a good potpourri of the human emotions and weaknesses.