Introduction in “Mosquito and Other Stories” by Amlan Das Gupta – Part 4

The setting of the Ghanada stories is as interesting as Ghanada himself. All the stories in this collection are set in the mess-bari or boarding house, and the house at Banamali Naskar Lane is undoubtedly the most famous mess-bari in the Bengali language, perhaps because of its importance in the narrative. There is a large amount of Bengali literature set in Calcutta which revolves around the mess-bari- ‘boarding house’ does not in fact quite convey its peculiar character. It was common at the time in Calcutta for groups of individuals to rent houses and share the expenses of living.  Many residents had weekly arrangements, with the boarders departing for the weekends. Other houses were more regularly occupied. Most of these boarding houses were located in north or central Calcutta. Though there is something in Behala (then a south-western suburb) actually called Banamali Naskar Road, one cannot really think of Ghanada anywhere except in the literary heartland of the city. In ‘Duck’(’Haansh’)  we are told of other residents, of whom only one is named and who plays an important role in another story as well. In all the stories included here, Ghanada never steps out of the house- apart from an occasional evening constitutional perhaps-though we are taken on whirlwind tours of the Arctic and the Antarctic, the South Sea Islands and the Malaysian rainforest in his tales.The mess-bari also provides other narrative conventions, both by way of exclusion and inclusion. Food , for instance is a major concern. Apart from the elaborate meals that are prepared by the immortal Rambhuj , there is also a constant procession of delicaies that make life worth living. There   are the hinger kochuries and singaras , the mutton chops and prawn cutlets- for which small eateries in north Calcutta are still renowned. The boarding house is also a plausible way of ensuring the male character if these tales. as the residence was a male establishment, there is a total absence of women in the world of the stories. But this is a generic feature rather than that of these stories in particular; all in all, there is little evidence of heterosexual friendship in Bengali children’s literature of the mid-twentieth century. If at all present women are usually a part of domestic scenes, and all-girl stories, probably a response to popular English fiction , appear somewhat later.- Amlan Das Gupta.