Another Bangladeshi English Novel
-Subrata Kumar Das
Journey to the East
MaryAnn and BiJon Sarma
Published in 2001
Subcontinental writers are producing scores of worthwhile fiction in the recent decades. Most of those fiction writers are immigrated to different American or European countries. A huge number of these writers are of Indian base, some are of Pakistani base and rarely we get someone from Srilanka or Nepal. The case of Bangladesh in this regards is almost insignificant. English fiction from Bangladeshi writers is really a rarity. The name of BiJon Sarma (b. 1949), whose prolific exposition is only a question of time, will be cited as an encouraging example in the arena of English novels of this region very shortly.
Most of the subcontinental fiction may be categorized in the group of deliberating domestic stories. R.K. Narayan’s omnibus, most of the novels of Raja Rao, Bharati Mukherjee are the well known examples of this category. Domestic realism has been the main theme of those ones excepting some of Salman Rushdie etc. Some novelists have also emerged there with feministic views. The last decade experienced a new trend – Partition Fiction. Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India (or Ice-Candy-Man), Shauna Singh Baldwin’s What the Body Remembers, Mukul Kesavan’s Looking Through Glass, or Manju Kapur’s Difficult Daughters are the recent successors of Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan or Anita Desai’s Clear Light of Day. Pangs of migrated subcontinental people in American states have also been a poignant seed of many subcontinental novels. But BiJon Sarma’s focus hovers over something else – the decadence of western civilization and comparison of it with the eastern one.BiJon Sarma’s first novel is Mollika Aamar Chandramollika (2000) published in Bangla. The two English novels of him that have been published in online fromCanada are Journey to the East (2001) and Drumline Migration (2002). His other three English novels that are in the pipeline of different world famous websites are : Maruhito Power Plant; WTA (Pvt.) Co. Ltd and The Virgin Mother.In his Bangla novel Mollika we got an interaction about the cultural question of the west. The same question has been the main and only theme of Journey to the East. In the novel the story is set in a society some eight hundred and fifty years ahead of the twenty first century. The society where the story of the novel takes place is a western one – full of riches and luxuries and development. The novelist sees the society from a very logical viewpoint. The present socio-familial milieu of the west compels the writer to design their future society in such a one where there is nothing like family – no one is a father or mother or a child of any other one as Gloria the protagonist says ‘I do not have a father, mother or any family’ (14). All the women folk of that country are of three categories having cards A for ‘Available on Payment’, or M for ‘Motherhood’ or F for ‘Free-lance Woman’ as our Gloria also is. ‘Womb-hiring’ is a profession in this country which Gloria accepts repeatedly, though in this hazardous task the final payment from the men’s part comes after the DNA test is done. The narrator of Journey to the East Ms. Gloria Sullivan’s baby also fails to pass the DNA test which is a common activity of ‘the would be fathers to be certain about the genetic inheritance’ (5) and with this antipathetic incident the novel opens. ‘I am a natural born child, I belong to no one and no one belongs to me’ (34) is Gloria’s principal hollowness for which she can easily say ‘ I did not have any love or affection for the children’ (23) or ‘In my case, the only attraction to become a mother was money’ (23) because ‘of all the jobs a woman can do in our society child bearing is the most profitable’ (18) .But in her third time of lending the womb the mother springs in her up; she falls in a relationship which may be termed as love and she agrees to marry Mr. Thomas, the father of her third child – though marriage is a millennium old custom in Gloria-Thomas’ society. There are very few significant characters in Journey to the East – along with Gloria, Thomas is the most vital one who originates the inspiration and encouragement in Gloria’s life. They both meet the lash ‘If such is the reality then what is the point of living in this world? What great purpose would my existence serve in this world? What new experience do I still expect to have in the future year? Why should I live any more?’ (61) and everyone will agree that there are the pivotal questions that every human being faces and fights and at last enjoys to spread to the next generation. These questions have placed them in the philosophical query of themselves: why and how has their society been so and thus the analytical episode on the social and cultural history (though fictitious as it is of future; but predictable) of the west befalls on the novel. Novelist BiJon Sarma has given the accounts of the possible future history (?) of western society in a more detailed way which may not seem very befitting to the fiction reading people. Long and elaborated socio analysis grabs the huge parts of the long conversation of the newly inspired couple – Gloria and Thomas. Many critics may term such long discussions as a fictional flaw of the novelist. This propensity may be observed from the very first page of the novel where the first person narrator Gloria tells: ‘There was a time when the question of such a test did not arise at all. … There were many types of marriage in various societies… . However those are the stories of the past ….’ And then it spans page after page. Since Gloria’s acquaintance with and inclination for Thomas this trend strengthens. The main points that generate long discussions are about women’s liberation; western sexual behaviour like sodomy, lesbianism etc; abolition of marriage and family etc. Journey to the East, imagined by the author, is a warning for the west that is rushing to the havoc. All the English novels of BiJon Sarma have a co-author named MaryAnn alias Mira Rani Sarma, BiJon Sarma’s sister. Professor BiJon Sarma, an architect of Khulna University and MaryAnn, a pathologist now working in Canada, are on the verge of acclamation in sub-continental English novels, in addition to their buoyant appearance as novelist writing in English in Bangladesh which is mostly barren in giving birth creative English writers.