On the 24th of March, Janus Cultural Society staged Mahmud Alam’s production ‘East Side Stories’, a series of concise dramatic representations based on short stories by Dibyendu Palit, Selina Hossain and Manik Bandhopadhay. The subject matter of the of all three playlets is the scars the Partition of Bengal in 1947 left on the unfortunate and aggrieved people whose lives was completely altered by the political move. The sense of being uprooted, cast away and having no identity plagues all three enactments. The production was a one woman show, in terms of acting, as Sanchayita Bhattacharjee was the only actor.

The first playlet, ‘Her House’, based on Dibyendu Palit’s work, is about Ayesha who was born and raised in Calcutta, but had to relocate to Dhaka after East Pakistan had become Bangladesh in 1971. Wanting to complete her education, she had stayed in Calcutta for a bit in her friend’s house where she had made several fond memories.
Ayesha revisits Calcutta for a conference, using it as an opportunity to connect with this close friend Amit, and his family, with whom she had correspondence via letters. When this chirpy woman does come to the place that largely shaped her youth, however, she sees that things aren’t as they were − Amit avoids meeting her and runs away, and she doesn’t feel quite at home with his family either. Sanchayita Bhattacharjee’s depiction of Ayesha’s transition from the hopeful to the wounded was splendid, the audience completely captivated by how the actor highlighted Ayesha’s feeling of alienation and uprooting.

‘Prateek/Symbol’, by Selina Hossain, follows the tale of the pregnant Pushpita as she crosses the Mahananda to get to East Pakistan, with her husband Ali. Angry and resentful of how the land she thought her own had discarded her for being with a Muslim man, she struggles with the pain of labor and homesickness. The birth of her child and her entry into her new home coincide, making the moment a turning point where hope returns for Pushpita as she decides her child will now forge a new identity in the new nation, and hopefully not turn against his own kind, like the land that had turned her away. She calls the child Prateek, making him a symbol of positivity in the form of a Hindu-Muslim union, and one of hope.

‘The Final Solution’, based on Manik Bandhopadhay’s short story, is a grizzly tale about how Mallika’s family has been thrown out of East Pakistan, to the railway platform of Calcutta, homeless and poverty-stricken. Her pitiable circumstances make her rely completely on Pramatha Babu, a welfare agent, who doesn’t subscribe to the ethics of his job in any way. He exploits the desperate Mallika by selling her to a stranger for some time in return for shelter and food for her family. Disgusted and shaken by her fate, she gives vent to the violence within her and attacks this stranger, and resolves to continue doing so and eventually robbing those she attacks to support her family, as such an inconsiderate society, to her, would not miss much if some obscene individuals are annihilated.

It is remarkable how all three playlets are essentially the same story told in three ways. The bareness of the stage with only the necessary props contributed to the raw emotions felt in all three parts. Sanchayita Bhattacharjee’s skill as an actor was proved in how she played all three protagonists so differently from one another, yet they were all unified by theme and circumstance. The synthesis of music and drama by the actor made the production more attractive, giving the voices of the traumatized refugees a richer texture.