Mrinal-da, thank you for writing a very interesting memoir.
I cannot think of anyone from the subcontinent who has captured exactly this time and ethos, exactly this epoch in English with the kind of sensitivity that you are pouring in here. You have captured a very interesting time in the history of South Asia in this novel (oh well novel within a novel). The pre-70s, if you will. The turbulent times on either side of the border of India and Bangladesh for different reasons of course.
Correct me please, here is a touch of পূর্ব পশ্চিম (সুনীল গঙ্গোপাধ্যায়) and strangely enough, I feel a touch of মহাস্থবির জাতক (প্রেমাঙ্কুর আতর্থী); of course the story of জাতক captured another era, but the movement, the capture of the time that you have done here brought back memories of reading that masterpiece in Bengali literature (correction: should be world literature, somebody should translate that). I vaguely remember reading a story by Ashutosh Mukhopadhyay (or was it Prafulla Roy?) written from the context of “West Bengal” and the character was named Swadhin (স্বাধীন), because he was born on the 15th, and a deft narration of his life story. That memory is very vague. Maybe just maybe.
What you write is different. One fell swoop where Midnight’s Children (Rushdie), and Mammo (Ismat Chughtai?), melds. Reading Serendipity one also feels the richness of an experience slowly creeping in. A tale of a forgotten time. I really like how you insert the kernel of an idea that a nascent movement in recognition for Bengali language in East Pakistan that will in turn lead to emergence of Bangladesh. Very deftly, very softly hinted in this episode, viewed through the gaze of a rookie student who has come to study at a large complex university and bedazzled as he confronts other young minds that discuss politics; time flows by.
The other thing I like here is the very conscious/deft/clever use of subcontinental English (the near perfect imperfections, if you will). Very characteristic usage of mixing the present continuous and past with the present. What a pleasure to read this! I could almost smell the odour of a fish head being cooked by the “Thakur”s in our hostel kitchen wafting in the air, such is the magic of your writing. Memories come back when you read these reveries of a lost time.
Lost? Do all those wander get lost?
On another note, you wrote in the previous installment your train trip on arriving at the university that you crossed the river Padma on a train. I remember travelling to Dhaka from Kolkata on a bus back in 2004 and we had to cross the Padma I think on a boat, they did not quite have a bridge across the river. I really liked your description of the sound of the night train crossing the river. The description had a lilting tonality I mighty liked.
Look forward to the next episode. It’s getting better.