Unlike most of her works, which focus on indigenous people and the rural dispossessed, the four stories in this collection are located in the urban and suburban underworld, and form an unusual segment of Mahasweta Devi’s oeuvre. ‘Fisherman’ tells the story of Jagat who recovers bodies of young boys from the village tank so that the police can pass them off as cases of drowning. ‘Knife’ is a tongue-in-cheek account of gang warfare in a suburban town of West Bengal bordering Bangladesh. In ‘Body’ we see a young woman, exploited by a politician and his cohorts, stand up against the establishment. And in ‘Killer’, Sona alias Akhil, an unemployed middle-class youth, discovers himself after his first ‘test’ killing.
The in-depth introductory essay by veteran cultural historian Sumanta Banerjee, who himself, from his crime-reporting past, has a firsthand familiarity with the milieu being depicted, puts the stories in context and goes on to discuss the development of the new criminal underworld in Bengal through the decades.
‘It is these hoodlums and desperadoes, the derelicts and drifters of the Bengali underworld as well as their political patrons and protectors in the police, whom Mahasweta brings to life with her caustic pen in the pages of these stories. As she pillories the respectable representatives of power in our political system who sustain this underworld, she offers us the extraordinary chance to watch a lifelike effigy of the bizarre structure of Indian democracy burning in the background.’—Sumanta Banerjee, in the Introduction.
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