22 June, 2021

Broken Calacatta

A woman in mid-century Calcutta breaks free of the soul-crushing customs of widowhood to reclaim her self in this iconic novel

Broken Calacatta

What is the status of widows in our ‘progressive’ society? Has anything changed after the legal empowerment of widows? Bani Basu’s sensitive Bengali novel, Swet Patharer Thala, also made into an award-winning film starring Aparna Sen, has been translated  into English by Nandini Guha as A Plate of White Marble.

In the wealthy, educated Bhattacharjee household in 1950s Calcutta, when the eldest scion dies of a heart attack, the young wife, Bandana,  finds her identity altered to that of a traditional widow. Her bewildered five-year-old son Abhiroop cannot recognise his mother in a stark white saree, shorn of ornaments. She is a shadow that suffers trauma, illness and hal­­l­­ucination. The bedecked mother-in-law bewails her ill luck every time she serves Bandana her frugal meal and the father-in-law assumes she will hand over all personal assets to the family coffers. Intuitively, the little child initiates small beh­avioural changes in his mother and Bandana starts wearing light coloured sarees and pearl...

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