Signs (Chinha), written in 1946, was Manik Bandyopadhyay’s fifteenth novel, and is something of a hidden gem of Bengali literature.
The novel is set in the mass uprisings that Calcutta witnessed in protest against the trial and sentencing of Captain Rashid Ali of the Indian National Army. These outbursts of popular anger were initiated by students, and involved large sections of the working people.
The author weaves together a number of episodes, meetings and partings happening simultaneously at different locations through a kind of narrative ‘montage’. The narration represents this revolutionary moment witnessed through the eyes of myriads of people who make it, whether by participating in it or by being caught up in it, by remaining on the margin or by trying to use it to their own purpose, or even by resisting it. It is a rare attempt to catch the internal dynamics of the action by focussing on the fast-changing relationships among its speaking, thinking, acting human agents, when the singular motive force of the objective situation is manifested in the multiplicity of responses.
Signs was such a departure from the writing of the time that the author noted, ‘It is written in a new technique. I do not know whether it should be called a novel.’ Manik Bandyopadhyay failed to interest his publisher into issuing a second print during his lifetime. It was published again after his death.
This is the first English translation of this modernist masterpiece, introduced and annotated by scholar and activist Malini Bhattacharya.