Buddhadeva Bose was an old-school man of letters, writing in all possible forms when not moonlighting as a critic, editor, translator and lecturer. He combined this profligacy with some heavy modernist hitting in the post-Tagore milieu. His 1967 novella It Rained All Night gained wide attention when it was sued by a neighbourhood thug on charges of obscenity — the book’s ban was eventually overturned by the Calcutta High Court.
Bose begins his story quietly, with the central action having just finished — one night a man comes home to discover his wife sleeping in post-coital, semi-nude bliss — and the modernist scamp is off. The couple retires to their separate beds and each rethinks the story of their marriage over that one rain-sogged night. Alternating between the first-person perspectives of Nayonangshu and his wife Maloti, the chapters track their initial infatuation and giddy coupledom, the plateau of child rearing, the drying of desire — and then the damp of temptation again elsewhere, infatuation again, perhaps love — and adultery, its gratifying umbrage, its needling delights.
Bose presses hard on the dilemmas streaming through the couple’s muddled heads, reminiscent of the hushed but bouffant passions of Philip Roth and Hanif Kureishi’s couples — the intimate monologue and mousy games of sexual politics. Clinton Sealy’s translation, done almost 40 years ago with Bose, holds up remarkably well. Bose maintains an almost epistolary directness that helps in affecting the reader throughout. He questions what each person did and why, cutting through all the modern junky ideas about relationships, mulling how a serene couple might come to hate each other and, perhaps, even relish the torture of a never-ending marriage.
Bose throws the javelin of sex in many satisfying directions. “Ah, if only it were not Jayanto but somebody else from among my friends,” says Angshu about being cuckolded, “somebody with whom it might at least have been possible to discuss Kandinsky.” What finally whets the reader is encountering the fact that Bose knows how things work. He knows, for example, how a wife respects her man less when she finds she can hurt him, how each “person’s desires never quite coincide with another’s”. There’s an old word for this, something we’ve almost stopped expecting from our storytellers — wisdom. Bose knows things we sense only partly, and he’s able and willing to say them. Both characters reach the same conclusion — “the body is the main thing… the mind alone cannot appease the mind, nor the body can, by itself, make the body happy.” Those looking for steamy action will crawl away disappointed, for Bose is entirely sympathetic to both Angshu’s anaemia and Maloti’s frustrations. In this beautiful book, only the sophomoric cover designer needs to get it in the neck.