Criticism by Subhajit Bhadra


Subhajit Bhadra

The literary map of the North Eastern part of India is basically made available to the outside world through a maximum number of inputs from writers from Assam and to some extent Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. With the passage of time, Manipur has also registered its significant presence in the literary field with a few remarkable contributions from some of its able writers and it is in this context that Smriti Kumar Sinha emerges as a major voice from this region but interestingly enough he writes in a minor language, called the Bishnupriya Manipuri language. Sinha is an eclectic intellectual who takes pleasure in switching between different interdisciplinary branches of knowledge and he has created stories that are rich in structure and texture, novel in theme and subject matter, innovative in terms of technique and expression. He has always put emphasis on quality rather than on quantity and he believes in the economy of expression regarding his style in short story. His chosen language is still developing and Sinha painstakingly expands the possibilities of the resources of his native Bishnupriya Manipuri language with each of his short stories marked by the free flowing style, suggestive images and metaphors and a philanthropic ideal.

Decimal Fraction exhibits Sinha’s ability to build a story based on a single central idea and it is capable of appending both to the intellectual and emotional faculty of readers. Sinha builds an atmosphere of intense emotional association within the story and gradually through his suggestive use of words executes his theme effectively enough to strike a deeper chord in the heart of the readers. The title refers to Sinha’s interest in mathematics and the significance of the title becomes extremely meaningful when the readers realize the connotations of the mathematical terminology successfully evoked by the story. The story focuses on the life of a divided family where the parents of the household become liabilities to their sons as they have grown old. The father happens to be an ailing octogenarian who coughs frequently and does almost nothing but grumbling about everything. The mother is now forced to live separately because of the family division and is compelled to follow the dictates of her son rather than following the call of her heart. Whenever she gets some time, she, however, creates a pretext for coming near her husband and it is through their insignificant daily little quarrels that their love for each other is revealed. The mother too realizes how she herself is a burden to the sons but life has to move on and it is precisely this realization that sustains the old couple. The old man watches his son Poran who is a village tutor and derives some sort of satisfaction when the students do not commit mistakes in their mathematical equations. Throughout the day, the old man simply sits and at one point he realizes that human life is also a matter of mathematical equations as everything on earth can be divided, subtracted or multiplied. The ending of the story is very poignant when the old man is about to die and on his death bed keeps on shouting to his son about the in authenticity of a remark regarding decimal fraction. The purpose of the story letter becomes successful here as he is able to depict the trauma of the old man and the story satirically attacks those who reduce human relations to the level of base mathematical equations.

 The Cage is an extremely evocative and poignant tale of human cruelty and heartlessness that strikes a strong note in the inner recesses of the heart of every sensitive reader. True literature essentially demands the evocation of sensitivity and compassion and it is precisely these two aspects this story evokes in abundance. Sinha here depicts with breathtaking ease the inhuman cruelty of a group of people scattered on a nameless railway station where an almost dying female beggar seeks for water. But in this human jungle, her cry goes in vain as people are scared to come near her as she is carrying some contagious disease. Her heart-rending cries for  water fail to evoke any human sympathy as each person around her is imprisoned in the cage of his/her respective profession, selfishness, law or aristocracy. The helpless beggar ultimately dies on the platform unable to squeeze out even an iota of compassion from people around her and when she dies, the author sarcastically comments on the posters of two famous personality of the world that is seen in the platform-that of Indira Gandhi and Mother Teresa. The story brings to light the heartless nature of human beings in today’s world where everything has become sterile, where there is no human warmth, compassion and fellow feeling and the pain and anguish of the story teller is revealed through his satirical stance towards the ending.

 In The Citizen, Smriti Kumar Sinha takes us into a hitherto uncharted territory by any writer of the North East so far. Sinha here focuses on the tribal communities of Andaman and Nicober islands whose numbers are rapidly decreasing and who live a life of their own. The writer specifically concentrates on a tribe called the Shompen whose existence becomes threatened once they come under the influence of their civilizing masters who try to impose modern urbanized lifestyle on them. Sinha shows how these tiny groups of tribes feel threatened when they become vote casting citizens according to the parameters of the civilized world and their indigenous culture is threatened due to outside intervention. Sinha again sarcastically shows how Indian democracy becomes a mocking stuff as it considers  each citizen to be a potential vote bank and how this aspects is  grossly manipulated by the shrewd politicians.

 In One Page Mahabharata Sinha shows with remarkable precision and dexterity how ordinary individuals are guilty of committing and perpetrating many cruel acts daily without being aware of their implications. The analogy drawn from the Kansa episode of Mahabharata becomes very apt here as two couples condemn Kansa’s heinous act of murdering his own nephews as shown in the T.V. serial while they themselves suffer from no moral qualms when an egg, prematurely hatched from the womb of a hen, is taken for their protein requirements. This double–standard of ordinary middle-class individuals earns the wrath of the story teller as he mildly attacks them through his skillful analogy drawn from the episode of Mahabharata. Smriti Kumar Sinha has built over the years a small but important corpus of works that needs to be widely available through translation. Presently he is working as a Professor of Computer Science and Dean, Students’ Welfare in Tezpur University.