A White Bird and Its Black Shadow (A Collection of Short Stories), by Aju Mukhopadhyay, Pondicherry: Busy Bee Books, 2005, Pp. 82, Rs. 50/-

I was going through the wood, so dark that the depth could not be guessed. No sign of light was there all round, yet I was definitely moving towards a flickering light. It was neither bright nor dim, in a sense inexpressible. My steps were neither hasty nor rambling, but steady toward the goal. Forward and forward my body was moving, nowhere but toward the light through the wood which was dark and lovely. All this was a sensation of the surroundings, a vague but deep feeling. My sight was directed neither to this nor to that. It was not looking at anything but the light. (81)

The comment by the poet and author Aju Mukhopadhyay, though made in his short story ‘New Birth’ from the collection A White Bird and Its Black Shadow somewhat hints also towards the ever-abiding love and dedication of the author towards literature and his thirst and inquisition for Knowledge to pen and move on the road of literature on and on. Aju Mukhopadhyay is essentially a poet but his prose is equally readable and enjoyable, and his poetic sensibility and merits can easily be glanced in his prose works. He is widely published, read, admired and awarded around the globe. The chapbook for review has fifteen short stories of myriad sensitive issues related to environment, society and culture where the author has succeeded in merging the imagination with gross realities of life, humour, satire and even irony. The author remains ruminant in all his stories and makes us to think. For example in the first title story we read:

Earnestly I feel that each vibrating living thing desires something. What did I desire in my life? I don’t distinctly remember. Perhaps many things but nothing took a real shape it may be. I remember many things of the shadowy past but whenever I remember that bird, I shrink. Its fluttering reverberates in my heart. Its shadow falls on my flowing blood. Did I long for the real white bird or its black shadow? Was it true about all other things of my life? (2)

Some of the stories of the collection are written in an autobiographical tone however their coincidence with the reality may be a supposition, yet they get success in making the reader well-conversant with the character, plot and the symbols and imagery coined by the author. His description of Nature, his ken and penetrating and accurate insight enables the reader to look into the plot and muse over, thus resulting as a established successful writer of short stories, he puts before the reader a world of his own narration. One can mark out his lovely descriptive quality esp. his narration of nature as follows that hints towards his quality of mingling the nature with pathos in a skilled manner:

The air, sometimes, sometimes a little wild was blowing all around. Night jasmines were dropping as they do every morning. A beautiful sense of aspiration was flowing through his reins as he enjoyed the fragrance alone. He remembered how the trees of sadness were growing in his garden over the years. In the evening the flowers with their orange corellas spreading a light intoxicating smell in the neighbourhood, stuck firming at end of cyme, got loosened towards the morning and started falling with the breeze one after the other up to noon. Some at the upper end stuck to their places and got dried with the heat of the sun.(45)

The poetic element of narration remains alive in almost all the stories of the collection and unlike dull prose the stories of the collection interestingly tickle and pierce the reader’s mind and make him reflective up to long. Though running into one or two pages of the small chapbook the stories are nowhere less in meaning or message. ‘The Passport’, ‘Slavery’, ‘A White Bird and Its Black Shadow’ and ‘New Birth’ are very short stories yet they carry equally effective meaning and force to the large ones of the collection which are woven in a strong plot and have raised many social problems and evils of our society. For example, we may take the story ‘The Law of Life’ in which the author relates the story on the background of leprosy, an infectious disease which being castigated by the society as well as the kith and kin. Parimal while traveling towards Kharagpur meets Gopalda due to his transfer to Bankura (a leprosy infected tribal area) where he recapitulates his childhood days, Gopalda, Sulochna and ‘her rosy cheeks, doe eyes and lock of hair falling on her forehead which besotted him long ago. But the pathetic plight of Gopalda and his family create pathos and pity in readers and lastly the miserable death of Sulochna on account of leprosy makes the situation more gruesome and pathetic.

The cremator was waiting for him. The body was laid on the pyre. When they tried to take off the last piece of the cloth from the body, portions of it remained with pus and blood. People looked at it with abhorrence. They wanted the body to be burnt quickly. Ignition was made. Fire raged. Flames were rising up higher and higher as if licking the sky with their tongue. (79)

Despite all such gloomy pictures, the positive feature of the author remains visible and dominant and even overpowers the sorrow, pain and vicissitudes of life. The characters are lively and vivid and put before us the moral of living with more vigour, vitality and exuberance struggling hard with the monsters of destiny. Thus his narrative and characters are not harboured or observed but they breathe and spread the message of zeal, enthusiasm and courage and emphasize on the vital forces of life.

His language is simple and flawless and pronounces the author’s meticulous handling with the plot and characters. To sum up, one can draw a final line of conclusion that the book is a novel, readable and enjoyable. It will certainly charm the readers and can be a book of one sitting reading.                  

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