The Disimpassioned Logic of Capitalism in Bitan Chakraborty’s Redundant—a review


Author: Bitan Chakraborty

Translated from the original Bengali by Malati Mukherjee

Published by Readomania, New Delhi

May 2022, Paperback, Page 102,

ISBN: 978-93-91800-38-3

“Redundant” as a word addresses excess. For something to be “redundant,” it must be superfluous. In the context of Bitan Chakraborty’s novella Redundant, we absorb excess through the exploits of one of the central characters, Shubho, who inhabits a small quarter of Kolkata with others. Shubho lacks frugality and consequently has difficulty advancing his career prospects.

How does the novella address excess, and in what sense? Shubho fears gluttony and greed throughout his doings. For instance, on page 16, he is expected to keep his hands off Kanak’s snacks—“Shubho is happy to comply. Why lose a share by being gluttonous?” He reluctantly sells only one deodorant to Kanak on the following page: “Best not to be too greedy,” he rationalizes. Despite his seemingly conservative approach, he cannot maintain his lifestyle. Why does capitalist logic fail the struggling poor? He is rejected from one job due to a lack of experience. He seems to backslide frequently in personal affairs. Although demonstrations of weakness allow the reader to sympathize with him, he is also complex enough to inspire frustration. Perhaps he is trying, or is he slacking off and making excuses for himself? Does the world around Shubho silently conspire to prevent him from making a better life in Kolkata? These questions concerning him are not easily answered. Such complexities draw the human qualities from the narrative.

redundatShubho is also defensive of strugglers who come from outside the city. As Kanak criticizes a foreign hawker for interfering with local business, Shubho implores him to think differently. In these opening dialogues, we are introduced to the personal differences between Shubho and Kanak. Kanak learns the meaning of “move on,” as revealed in Part III, but Shubho’s experiences nearly force him back into his parents’ home. A surprise ending leaves him to exclaim, “I will never leave this city—whether I live or die” (p. 90). The epilogue demonstrates Shubho’s stubbornness and admiration for Kolkata. The dangers of living on the edge cannot dissuade him from staying where he is most comfortable.

In Redundant, readers observe a highly competitive working-class environment as the action divulges a cast of secrets. The final moments undercut and emphasize the story’s disillusion. These boarding house roomies are in conflicted engagements throughout. As a reader, I do not get the impression that Shubho is uncomfortable in Kolkata’s streets in spite of his seeming misalignment with its realities. Instead, his ignorance of situations leads him to disasters and failures.

The author also scatters hopeful aphorisms within the narrative. For instance, “there’s just a bridge of time between good and bad times” (p. 57). Shubho recalls being told in school. However, it seems the narrative does not support this tone of advice. Further, we read, “Compassion doesn’t sell in the city” (p. 48). Chakraborty is a realist. Perhaps with a hint of irony, a pharmacist notes that he will not discount his merchandise because he does not sell “fake medicines” (p. 59). Customers get what they need and leave. The cruel and disimpassioned logic of capitalism centers the narrative. Shubho goes awry in his human weakness. Even Kanak is shown to be harsh as he criticizes Shubho’s job search, “That boy has been bugging only me; he’s probably not even trying anywhere else” (p 59).

In Chakraborty’s stories, we meet with characters of all castes. Shubho even boldly exclaims, “Money has no caste anyway” (p 12), as he discusses working hard for very little money. In Section IV, the novella further elaborates on the financial burdens of life within the city. Maintaining meager hope, Shubho reminds himself of the power of “what if” after a driver tells him human sorrow does not “follow any logic or brook any argument.” (p 26). This motif suggests the author’s motive for writing the story.

As Nobel laureate Bob Dylan sang, “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?” In this complex story accompanied by intriguing artwork from Pintu Biswas, the answer is blowing in the wind. At the eccentric conclusion of the story, Shubho, in youthful striving, has much to learn and teach. Redundant is ultimately a narrative concerning the future of a few men in complex, competitive situations. The title suggests some form of agony through repetition, as each character’s shortcomings reveal their innate frustrations and greater desires.

One cannot write about a translated work without commenting on the nature of the ease of reading. The glossary of terms specific to Indian vocabulary makes this novella a learning experience for the worldwide readership. The translation is generally lucid for English readers, and we are not met with distracting adornments or flourishes. Malati Mukherjee, the translator from the Bengali, writes of the author’s intention in her note: “to make the ordinary, struggling pedestrian’s reality your own.”

Language is of prime importance to a storyteller in conveying a message. This translation is not bogged with a lack of intelligibility for English readers, yet the complex narrative is kept afloat by developments in the characters and their dialogues. Some dialogue may be tedious due to differences in language structures and conversational styles. However, readers will not have trouble enriching themselves through this complete and holistic storyline with its unfathomable surprise and a surrealistic ending that carries a life of its own.

Dustin Pickering is a poet, critic and editor based in Houston, Texas.

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