Imaan went to Central Jail as an infant in his mother, Zahura Bibi’s arms. She was charged with her husband’s murder and dies in jail a few year later. Imaan has no relatives to take care of him and hence he stays in jail for twenty years. He is always fascinated by the outside world based on all the stories he heard from the fellow inmates.
Sometime later, his wish is fulfilled and he is released from the confines of the jail. Not knowing where to go and what to do, he ends up at Jadavpur Railway Station, becomes a ragpicker and is now craving to go back to the comfortable life in jail.
This is my first read by Manoranjan Byapari and I am bowled over by the raw account of life in the jail and the bosti near the Jadavpur Railway Station. The nuances of the contrast in life at both the places have been captured very well through various independent incidents.
The story does not move in a linear fashion, one connected event after another yet the reader can find a distinct connection amongst all the individual stories. There are a huge number of characters each with a different set of problems yet one common thing that binds them together – their daily grind to survival, described in a heart-wrenching manner.
The book has disturbing accounts of rape, murders, prostitution and the condition of the prostitutes. The dead body being exchanged for money, young girls being dragged in flesh trade, small gangs operating to rob people in trains, buses and crowded places were described in a brutally honest manner.
The book ends with Imaan sorting out the dilemma of going to jail or carrying on his life in the bosti. The part depicted how Imaan ultimately gets sucked into the way of life despite being oblivious to the outside world and happy in the safety of his shell in the jail.
I am glad that it was translated from Bengali to English so that it can reach the non-Bengali reading book lovers as well. The book is rich with the flavour of Bengal in terms of the language, life style of the people living in slums and their struggles. A hard-hitting book that I highly recommend !!