The Quills of the Porcupine (Shajarur Kanta) :
|Original title||Shajarur Kanta|
|Genre||Detective, Crime, Mystery|
“The Quills of the Porcupine”, which was one of the last Byomkesh stories to be published. This novella is a classic example of how Bandyopadhyay became more ambitious in his later work, eschewing the traditional narrative format and turning his gaze to a larger canvas. In fact, Byomkesh makes his entry quite late into the story, and only after we as readers already know nearly all the facts of the case.
“The Quills of the Porcupine” centres on a seemingly random series of murders, each perpetuated with a porcupine quill, each victim belonging to a different class of society. As the plot unfolds, we realise that the murders are in some way connected to the lives of an unhappily married couple and a group of disparate characters who meet each evening for social chit-chat. Intercut with the murder mystery are observations on class and caste differences, the alienation inherent in big-city living, and the dual natures of people – though of course these musings don’t preclude an exciting denouement featuring a bulletproof vest and Byomkesh using his “iron fist” to knock out a criminal.
In the most ambitious passage of the story, the omniscient narrator follows the nighttime lives of each of the principal characters, using their activities to comment on the dark underbelly of even the most conventional social orders. One gets a sense here of a society in transition, of the restlessness and disaffection of people who live in a big city, and how easily crime can breed in such a setting (at times, it’s easy to forget that the period is the 1950s). Bandyopadhyay seems to be making a self-conscious attempt to transcend the trappings of his genre – though the narrative structure feels a little forced at times, it’s an undeniably intriguing approach to what might otherwise have been by-the-numbers mystery.
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Character Analysis :
Dipa : Dipa was the only girl in the family. She had passed her Senior Cambridge exam from a girls school and then her academic career was put on hold permanently as her family wanted to get her married. She was not a typical young Bengali Woman of her time. In her spare time, she read novels and listened to the radio, her heart surged with rebellious thoughts. She would obey all the rules but her heart remained despondent. She was strong and was a force to reckon with. Dipa even fell in love with a man that was not from her caste, she would sit by the telephone in the afternoon and cautiously exchange a few words with her mystery lover, she would stand at the window in the evening and he would pass her house and that’s how they would see each other. She was strong enough to go tell her grandfather that she loved someone. When her family did not listen, she did not give up and decided to run away with him. After she got married, she even told Debashish that she loved someone else. All of which any other Bengali woman of her time would not be able to do.
Debashish Bhatta : Debashish lived with his servant Nakul at his father’s house. His mother had died when he was a child. His father also passed away a month later he arrived home after completing his education in Delhi. Debashish completed his M.Sc. from the University of Delhi and while he was there, he was staying with his father’s friend who was a Science professor at the University of Delhi. He started working at his own Cosmetic Factory after his father’s death.
Debashish seemed to be a very practical and fair guy. Out of the annual profits that the factory used to make, he kept only twelve thousand rupees for himself and the rest he would divide among the staff in direct proportion to their salary. Even his interactions with Dipa showed that he was not an orthodox male.
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Theme or Situational Analysis :
Reference to Calcutta in the early 20th Century : An apparently‑upper‑middle‑class Bengali couple, Dipa and Debashish, combine aspects of “western” and Bengali sartorial, culinary, ergonomic and even attitudinal preferences: Debashish wears “formal western clothes” to work and changes to “the formal Bengali attire of dhoti and kurta” while sitting down at the dining table and eating the traditional Bengali high tea of “puris, potato curry and home‑made sweets”. The plot of this story, in terms of this couple, weaves the informal but, nonetheless, binding networks of intra‑societal groups and neighbourhood gatherings and evening “tea and chat session[s]” organised by friends of friends, which are so very characteristic of Bengali socialisation to this day, the tensions and fault-lines of a loveless arranged marriage, the oppressive societaldemands of caste and gotra-maches and the incessant onslaught of the process of westernisation into what is, basically, a murder mystery.
The Visit of Dipa’s Friend : Dipa’s friend Shubhra was a plump & jovial young woman who had gotten married a year before Dipa. She was Dipa’s old friend and had come to check up on how Dipa was doing. She was incessantly asking about Dipa’s marital life and Dipa was at a loss for words, she had to keep up appearances and hide the truth from Shubhra. Shubhra initially got irritated at Dipa for not sharing details of her married life with her as she always did with her, but later Dipa managed to cool her down and they gossiped about clothes, jewellery, etc. Shubhra also asked Dipa if she had heard the latest album of Probal Gupta’s songs and Dipa mentioned that she listened to his songs over the radio quite often as it was played often on the radio. Later, Shubhra asked Dipa to go out for a movie but Dipa refused and Shubhra thought that Dipa was not coming for the movie because she wanted to go with her husband, Debashish and that this happened with her too, she didn’t want to leave her husband alone out of love. Soon shubhra realized that it was late and she had to leave. Dipa walked her friend out, and when shubhra left, she thought how strange it was, how people didn’t see the truth unless it was spelt out for them.
For More Theme or Situational Analysis : Buy Nirali Prakashan’s Book – Indian Literature in English