Kolkata book fair, arguably the largest book fare of the world, is now on. I buy and read Bengali authors around this time of the year as a tribute to Bengali language, my mother tongue, and in which I first published my first short story a long time ago. This year, in addition to buying books, I met Subimal Misra, a kind of icon writing in Bengali, after about three decades, thanks to my translator friend V. Ramaswamy.
It's easier to see him than write about him and his work. He has changed enormously since I saw him last. In his early sixties, he looked just like an average Bengali bhdraloke with attendant niceties. But what struck me were his simplicity and unpretentiousness. He didn't seem to be a gifted talker, but when he talked, it was so easy and spontaneous, and you feel he was talking from heart without holding back anything. Sometimes he smiled - a kind of fatuous smile - but it only indicated his goodness and honesty, rare things in a writer these days.
He admitted his ignorance of computer and internet, having never used them. It was only through Ramaswamy that he had learnt that a website was selling his books. He felt rather surprised that he was being written about on the net. "I never network," he said sheepishly. "How would I get to know about it all? Besides, I've started forgetting these days. I can't remember anybody's name now."
What he actually does - he has been actually doing it for the past forty years - is write down his stuff sitting in his hole away from the madding city crowd. He lives in a rented one room and a half flat, most space of which is taken up by his fifteen thousand books. His wife and daughter live separately in another place, and they meet only on Saturdays. "It's an arrangement," he said with that smile, "so that we have no problem pursuing our own agendas." Her wife is a school teacher.
Misra has his fan following. When we were talking, many book fair visitors came up to him, offered their compliments and asked about his health. I found many buying his books. It was, indeed, a heart-lifting experience.
Subimal is a rare chronicler of our life and times, and has created a canon for his work. Like Elfrieda Jelinek's, his work is replete with erotica( to a naueating level sometimes) which he uses to convey his hard-hitting message. He's immensely readable too.
My good friend Ramaswamy is now translating Misra's stories. Though a non-Bengali, Ramaswamy has profound love for Bengali language and literature, and is intimately involved with Bengali culture. It's my hunch that Ramaswamy will catapult Misra to the centrestage of world literature with his brilliant translation.