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  Books   27 May 2023  Book Review | Krishnagopal Mallick, an unsung literary pioneer

Book Review | Krishnagopal Mallick, an unsung literary pioneer

Published : May 28, 2023, 12:10 am IST
Updated : Jun 10, 2023, 7:35 pm IST

The credit for ‘discovering’ Krishnagopal Mallick goes to university professor and novelist Niladri R. Chatterjee

Cover photo of 'Entering the Maze' by Krishnagopal Mallick. (Photo by arrangement)
 Cover photo of 'Entering the Maze' by Krishnagopal Mallick. (Photo by arrangement)

In the world of mainstream media and publishing, Krishnagopal Mallick is a rare find. In the 1980s, this now-deceased, former Statesman subeditor wrote creepily fascinating homoerotic sex stories that frankly, and amorally, depict unwanted surreptitious contact onboard buses, grooming, coercive (quid-pro-quo) congress and rape fantasy. These would no doubt certainly have been cancelled even in today’s woke times.

Krishnagopal Mallick (1936-2003) was a ‘family man’ survived by his son and daughter-in-law, leading an outwardly-conventional life in North Kolkata, but one would be hard pressed to find another homosexual writer world over in the last century who unabashedly and in such journalistic detail wrote his own life. Publishing neither posthumously nor under a pen name, he also did not take recourse to fictionalising the narrative of the titular story. Though he was clearly bisexual, his term of preference was the 19th-century word, homosexual, rather than the 20th-century ‘gay’ or the 21st-century ‘queer’.

The credit for ‘discovering’ Krishnagopal Mallick (even professors of Bengali literature plead ignorance of his name, it is mentioned) and reviving our interest in him goes to university professor and novelist Niladri R. Chatterjee in conjunction with Niyogi Publishers. The translation closely follows Mallick’s matter-of-fact, irreverent style and is almost flawless. The introduction by Chatterjee is scholarly and elegant.To preserve their phonetic authenticity, he has made judicious use of diacritics in all Bengali names and book titles.

Krishnagopal Mallick was born on June 3, 1936 and died on March 24, 2003. He studied Bengali Honours at Presidency College. During his time at college, he published a short story titled ‘Napunsak (Eunuch)’ and an essay titled ‘Atha Nam Sankirtan (Chanting the Name of the Lord)’ in the college wall magazine. Discontinuing his Masters, he served as subeditor in the Statesman from 1963 to 1967. In 1967, he got married, took voluntary retirement from the newspaper, set up a press and published little magazines Galpakabita, Kaurab, Hawa 49. For a while, he did use a pseudonym, Nirmalendu De. (But the name of his author-surrogate was Krishnagopal Mallick.) Mallick mostly wrote essays and short stories. His novels/long pieces are Aamar Premikara (My Girlfriends), Byuhaprabesh (Entering the Maze), Ajab Safar (Strange Trip), Kato Ki Je Guinneser Kachhakachhi (MuchThat  Is Close to Guinness), Basudhoibo Kutumbokom (All the World’s a Family), Namesake and Shyamar Ghare Char Din (My Days with Shyama).

This book contains two short stories ‘The Difficult Path (Bandhur Pantha)’ and ‘Senior Citizen’ in addition to his autobiographical Byuhaprabesh (Entering the Maze). In it, as well as in his other works, the city of Kolkata and boys/men are his two recurring themes. Significant portions are devoted to the WW2 bombing of the city and the Great Calcutta Killings. In the first story, one gets a view of the storied College Square as a cruising site! In so many ways, the unembellished and bare-facts retelling of Mallick’s boyhood spotlights how the overprotective, anti-physical, academics-consumed nature of Bengali upbringing has a neutering effect on the Bengali psyche. Rendering the subject weak, excessively submissive and vulnerable.

I deliberately use the word neutering instead of emasculation. Philosophically, classical feminism is opposed to queer theory and, with transgenders all but caricaturing women, the LGBTQIA+ movement unfortunately ends up toeing patriarchal gender stereotypes. That said, the taut intensity and psychological honesty of high-quality queer fiction is more than just plain enjoyable; it is mesmerising.

Published in the ‘Pride Month’ of June, this richly annotated and tastefully illustrated slim volume has, therefore, much to be excited about!

Entering the Maze

By Krishnagopal Mallick

Translated by Niladri R. Chatterjee

Niyogi Books

pp. 176; Rs.350

Tags: book review, queer fiction, krishnagopal mallick