16 June, 2021

Matrilineal Hold

Indentured labour, the 1971 War and search for identity are woven in a mother-haunted novel

Matrilineal Hold

Selina Hossain’s Charcoal Portrait could quite easily have been a story about the ‘birangonas’, the raped heroines of 1971. Instead, she tells the story of a search for identity. Dulal, a ‘war child’, has the benefit of knowing who his mother is, unlike many others who were torn from their homes during the Bangladesh War. He arr­ives in Dhaka from Germany with a slip of paper, totally lost and meets the artistic Ranjan and his autorickshaw. The two form a mystic bond and Ranjan takes Dulal under his wing.  

Ranjan is on the run from the police because of the death of his wife. Fate brings him to a village near the tea gardens. There the little granddaughter of the stationmaster tells him that she loves him like salt—the King Lear legend transposed to Bangladesh—and from ‘kaku’, or ‘uncle’, calls him father. Ranjan, too, is looking for something—in his case an identity. The fact that the village is by a railroad track underlines the passing of life and people like trains in the night....

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