ABOUT THE STORY Marriage and economics have never been independent of one another. The relationship between the two in the affairs of men and women is memorably dramatised in this story by Narendranath Mitra, one of Bengal’s greatest short-story writers. And the narrative time of the story and the arc of the romances within it are marked, too, by the cycle of the seasons in a rural economy, as seen through the life of the protagonist, Motalef, a tapper of palm-trees. The “ras” of Mitra’s story is not just the juice of the palm trees which give Motalef his livelihood, but also the “ras” of human passion, that longing to possess what is beautiful that maddens human beings and leads them to singe the lives of those around them. In order that he may accumulate the bride-price to marry for love, Motalef can see no other way out than to marry first for wealth; within this marriage, he enjoys a devotion and companionship that he later spurns for the lure of youth and beauty. Mitra’s story has an irresistible force and amplitude, but perhaps it is never more beautiful than in the long interlude between the two winters, or palm-tree seasons, covered by the events of the tale. Here, Motalef is seen pampering his pretty new wife and burning himself out over numerous unremunerative tasks, waiting for the next high season to come along and his labours to yield riches again through the transformation of palm-tree syrup into jaggery by his wife’s hand. Mitra fills his story with symbols and metaphors rooted in the world that it describes; when, in the closing scenes, Motalef comes to a realisation of how he has been trumped by his own scheming, the two pots of ras he takes on a final journey stand unforgettably for his defeat as they once stood for his triumph. The world of “Ras” was memorably realised in a film by Sudhendu Roy in 1973 called Saudagar, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Nutan, and Padma Khanna.
The story appears here in a translation by Arunava Sinha.
MOTALEF BEGAN TO TAP THE PALM TREES in the Chowdhurys’ orchard around the middle of Kartik. And before a fortnight had passed, he married his neighbour Razek Mridha’s widow Majukhatun and brought her home. Not that this was the first time for Motalef. His previous wife had died a year or so ago. But Motalef was twenty-five or twenty-six, in the prime of life. As for Majukhatun, she was nearly, if not actually, thirty. She didn’t have children to worry about, though. She had married off her only daughter to the Shaikh family at Kathikhali. But while she had no worries, she didn’t have much of her own either by way of property or riches. It wasn’t as though Razek mian had left behind chests full of gold and fields full of crops for her to get a share of. All she had got was 700 square feet or so of the family land, and a dilapidated hut. So much for her riches. And then she wasn’t exactly a nymph when it came to looks. Majukhatun had nothing but the firm body of a fiery woman with which to attract men and win their hearts.