Title: A Box of Ticky-Tacky
Author: Somdatta Goswami
Published by Chitrangi
First edition: September, 2016
Price: INR 200/-
Reviewed by Pranab Ghosh
A Box of Ticky-Tacky authored by Somdatta Goswami and published by Chitrangi is an assorted collection of ten prose pieces that many may like to call short stories. The prose pieces are well crafted showing, rather telling the joy and sorrow, love and hatred of the characters involved in each story. The prose pieces have a positivity of their own. They radiate a positive energy in which characters like Papa Crown bask.
“Old Papa Crown” is the first story, which both young and old will love. But it’s, like most other tales, are best suited for young minds out to explore the world around them as the author, a Master’s in Economics, is very young at heart. And the story, one may say, is written from a very young person’s perspective, which is yet to come in terms with the major intricacies, the twists and turns, the devastating upheavals and the dark complexities of life.
You may feel that the stories then are not mature. They are not immature tales penned by a young author; on the contrary they show a maturity of their own. For example “The First Day of Baishakh” is a tale that many will remember even after they have finished reading the book. It is a story of a young woman all set to get married. Her marriage gets fixed, but at the last moment the world turns topsy turvy for her. The marriage is called off. The joint family crumbles and the once prosperous household is now in tatters. To tell this story the author has gone back to the first day of the Bengali calendar, a day on which the jamindari system was abolished. With the abolition of the jamindari system, the family of Gayatri disintegrates. From a well-to-do family, where there used to be mirth and merriment, the family is made to go through abject poverty where two square meals become difficult to get. But the sudden turn in the family’s fortune is not the story. The story is how the family of one of the three brothers, the youngest and most deprived, under the able guidance of their only daughter Gayatri manages to find a new root. She not only guides her young brothers to land jobs but also manages the household in such a way that no one could complain. This coming from a girl, who once was so protected from the harsh realities of life that her fellow playmates used to tease her! The importance of the first day of the Bengali calendar year is rooted through the story with major events occurring on that day. However, the end of Gayatri is tragic and sudden. The author failed to do justice to the character of Gayatri who stood out as a picture of sacrifice and grit. She deserved a better more honorable end. But that is perhaps life and these are life’s little nuggets that make the book adorable.
The sternest of the critics may say that the stories are more like tales and anecdotes and they fail to imbibe the spirit of true short stories in that they are more dependent on narration, things are all told rather than shown and the characters fail to take root, both in the mind of the readers and in the stories that revolve around them. The criticism could be justified. For example “Life is Delicious,” which tells the tale of a young girl who discards her promising career in science education and becomes a travel writer, falling in love with forests in North Bengal and finally taking up the job of a forest ranger or the last story of the collection “The Sign of Love,” which is most political of all pieces and in a veiled way elicits the tale of atrocities committed by the Naxalites in remote villages of West Bengal is heavily dependent on narration which at times makes the piece read like an essay.
But there are stories like “The Kettle of Kangra Tea,” which explores the bond between a mother and daughter beginning from the birth of the girl until such time one of the duo departs from this soil. Human relationships are touchy. They are uncanny at times and at times take a turn that defies logic. This is one such prose which, you may say, has defied the logic of an ideal mother – daughter relation. But, this logic-defying tale is one lovely piece of prose where human relationship is taken to a logical conclusion where one waits for her dream to come true, where one waits for one’s conviction to become a reality. It is for pieces like this that A Box of Ticky-Tacky would be read and remembered.
*Pranab Ghosh is a journalist and poet, based in Calcutta.