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New book documents unforgettable lives of ‘other’ Bengalis in the 2000s, beyond the bhadralok

'Field Notes From a Waterborne Land' by Parimal Bhattacharya, published by HarperCollins India, will be released online on 12 January at 7 pm on ThePrint's SoftCover.

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New Delhi: A new book by Kolkata-based writer and translator Parimal Bhattacharya documents the missing stories and narratives from a lesser-known side of West Bengal at a time when the three-decade-long Left Front rule in the state was crumbling.

Published by HarperCollins India, Field Notes From a Waterborne Land will be released online on 12 January at 6 pm on SoftCover, ThePrint’s e-venue to launch select non-fiction books.

Combining history, geography, politics and myths, the book throws light on the lives of people who lived outside the well-trodden urban centres of West Bengal.


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The ‘other’ Bengalis

Bhattacharya, who currently teaches in the department of English at Kolkata’s Maulana Azad College, began to travel to different parts of the region — from the Sundarbans to tribal Jangalmahal, from the outskirts of Kolkata to villages on the Bangladesh border, from the floodplains of the Hooghly to the forests of Simlipal in neighbouring Odisha — in the late 2000s.

Along the way, he encountered an array of people, each with distinct experiences and life stories. These included a woman who was branded a “witch” because she was listed in the census as literate, an island that vanished famously, only to resurface, a paralysed communist who dreams about the death of a river, a forest community that believes they are descendants of the Harappans, an old millworker and his wife who fight the ghosts of a dead industrial town with laughter, a fisherman uprooted by a river 11 times in 20 years, and many more. 

The book documents these unique narratives, the largely invisible majority beyond the ‘bhadralok’ that the rest of India is familiar with. ‘Bhadralok’ is Bengali for a class of ‘gentlefolk’ who arose during British rule in India in the Bengal region.

Bhattacharya, also the author of No Path in Darjeeling Is Straight, Bells of Shangri-La and most recently Nahumer Gram O Onyanyo Museum, finds ways to shift between the personal and the political, and between travelogue, journal and memoir, in this new book.


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