Author: Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay
Translator: Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Penguin India, Hamish Hamilton
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
I had a lot of eyes staring at the cover of this book as I was reading it, and me being me, I could not care less. That is all there is to it in our society I think. A word or a picture that titillates to get people to stare and perhaps even pass judgment. “Panty” also did that in a quiet way and I knew I would get the stares as I would remove it from my bag in public and read it with great delight and joy. To me the book was all about shedding inhibitions and being the person you are – or rather trying to find who you are.
“Panty” by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay is a collection of two novellas – Hypnosis and Panty and each of them is all about love, longing and sexual desire that runs deeper than we know or care to admit. The two novellas shook me for a long time after I finished the book. It was not like the way I felt when I finished reading “Abandon” by the same author, but it was bittersweet and I loved the feeling that came over me. I cannot explain it but I will try – the feeling of melancholy, of utter hopelessness and yet so much hope and positivity lined with it. That is what great books do to you.
Hypnosis is about a woman trying to reach into her past, to confront her doomed love affair with a well-known musician by undergoing hypnosis. In Panty, we meet a woman who has moved into a guest house and finds a panty there – it is soft and silky in leopard-skin print (this is the cover of the book – though it is not soft or silky as I would have liked it to be). She starts imagining the life of the woman who must have worn it and suddenly their lives intermingle and reality blurs from fiction.
Bandyopadhyay’s voice is bold. It is unique. It is also raw. It is also a whole lot of other adjectives that people might use for it, but for me it was just honest. It comes from a place that does not believe in hiding. The writing makes you keep turning the pages for sure, but it also makes you pause and think about life in general and also about it – when it falls in love, when it is lusting for a body and when it wants to be consumed, no matter what. I think the book stops being about gender and just is about human experiences.
Arunava Sinha’s translation only makes it possible for readers in English to experience this rich and almost lush piece of Bengali literature. It is for such translations and more, that publishers should take more efforts in bringing this to readers the world over. “Panty” is a book which should be read without fear of being judged or being made fun of. It is most beautiful and stupendous work of Indian literature I have come across in recent times.