I have been reading Aranyak for my mother while my father dozes intermittently beside her. He does not hear me at all so there is little risk of him waking up. She does not read at night, her cataracts are getting worse and she is on the waiting list for surgery. There is a deep and abiding sense of peace in the air. Names like Lobtuliya, Mahalikharup and Gonori Tiwari roll off my tongue and I see scenes from the story – tribal girls with their hair piled high on one side, piyal blossom threaded through the black tresses, laughing as they haggle over cheap Japanese and German beads and bottles of perfume. I see their men, dark and handsome in a wiry, spare way, buying ten cigarettes for a coin. I see the frightened faces of illegal wood cutters making charcoal. I see the wretched Kunta, who had been a courtesan’s daughter in Varanasi and a Rajput’s bride in Lobtuliya. Once her paramour died, she was cast out by both his family and the local Gangotiyas for being her mother’s child. The author saw her as she stood patiently in a thin cotton sari in the bitter Magh cold of late December to collect the leftovers from his dinner each night. Have things changed that much for the Kuntas and the Bhumihar Jaipal Kumars of that part of Bihar? How many more Kuntas live across my country, across this world?
Here is a translated extract of Aranyak, Born of the Forest. Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay wrote it between 1937 and 1939.
“As each day passed, I came to fall increasingly under the spell of the jungle. I cannot begin to describe the pull exerted by its remoteness and the trees stained red in the vermilion evenings – but I felt that I would never be able to leave the vast forests that stretched away to the horizon, the newly risen perfume of its sun burnt soil, the freedom of its open spaces and the liberty they gave me to return to the pandemonium of Kolkata. This change did not come over me in one day. The forest appeared before my enchanted, inexperienced eyes in varied forms and infinite variety. Her evenings came, regally crowned in red clouds; her afternoons, searing and wild eyed like a woman in a trance; her deep nights, painted in moonlight and perfumed with the scent of dew cooled wild flowers, all the stars of the sky about her throat and even as a great and vengeful goddess who strode about the sky with Orion’s flaming arrows in her grasp. “
~ Aranyak, Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay