The Middleman

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Blurb: 1970s Calcutta. The city is teeming with thousands of young men in search of work. Somnath Banerjee spends his days queuing up at the employment exchange. Unable to find a job despite his qualifications, Somnath decides to go into the order–supply business as a middleman. His ambition drives him to prostitute an innocent girl for a contract that will secure the future of Somnath Enterprises. As Somnath grows from an idealistic young man into a corrupt businessman, the novel becomes a terrifying portrait of the price the city extracts from its youth. Sankar’s The Middleman is the moving story of a man torn between who he is and what he wants to be. Stark and disquieting, the novel deftly exposes the decaying values and rampant corruption of a metropolis that is built on broken dreams and morbid reality. The evocative prose and vivid imagery in this first-ever translation successfully capture the textures of the Bengali original

About the Author: Sankar (Mani Sankar Mukherji) is the author of several Bengali best-sellers, both fiction and non-fiction. Two of his novels, Seemabaddha (Company Limited) and Jana Aranya (The Middleman), were turned into films by Satyajit Ray. Sankar also wears a corporate hat, as Chief Advisor (Corporate Relations) at RPG Enterprises. He lives and works in Kolkata. Arunava Sinha is an Internet professional by day and a translator of classic and contemporary Bengali fiction by night. His translation of Sankar’s Chowringhee won the 2007 Crossword – Vodafone award for Best Translation. His other translations include Buddhadeva Bose’s My Kind of Girl (2009). Born and brought up in Calcutta, he lives in New Delhi.

Review: The Middleman (originally Jana Aranya) written by Sankar & translated by Arunava Sinha, is a work of total intensity. Describing recession in Calcutta at in 1970s, the story has pointed out the loopholes of the entire system –education, jobs and government. To my surprise, I had not heard of him until I read The Middleman, which tells the story of Somnath Banerjee and his struggles to find a job. Somnath’s struggles take place in 1970s when job and marriage defined men and women in that order. Somnath’s elder brothers are well-educated, highly placed and married and fully “settled.” But a year of searching has not yielded any result for Somnath and his friend Sukumar in red-tape ridden Calcutta. Driven by communal prejudices and force, Somnath tries his hand at business and that is when he truly gets entwined in the web of bribery. For Somnath to be successful he needs to bribe and being innocent he gets sucked in deeper problems. He realizes with bitter penalty that the greed for money has no limits. Sankar brings out the baseness in the society, and paints a glowing scene of great hope and morose reality. Somnath is a wonderful character, portraying stark reality, shame and frustration with the peek into the equations within the family and his rise and fall as a human being. Sankar characterised men and women within the frames of a biased society with proclivities. Somnath undergoes a moment of emasculation when his father tries to marry him off to a girl who has a defective hand but is considered a good match for a boy who is unemployed. Of Somnath gets humiliated because marriage is the first priority for girls in this society and a man without a job is considered as onerous as a girl who is unmarried. This book has tense moments, some poignant ones, highlighted Somnath’s naiveté and some brilliant passages that etched the dark, rotten, uncompromising yet extremely pliable and lascivious side of the city. And Sankar’s epilogue in the end, which reveals that many of the incidents were based on experiences that he was a witness to or undergone himself, makes the book more fascinating.

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