We speak the same tongue and wear the same cotton sarees, we are fond of rice and fish, and debates over politics. We are Bengalis, yet we belong to two separate countries! Chitrita Banerji in Mirror City manages to beautifully compare the ways of life of Bengalis from India and from Bangladesh, and enlightens the readers about the subtle nuances in the food habits and lifestyle that separates us yet bring us closer.
This is a story of an Indian woman and her journey in Bangladesh during the tumultuous times of political reformation.
Uma, the protagonist, is tall and dark; not the adjectives which are used to describe beautiful women in Bengal. She leaves her hometown, Kolkata, and goes all the way to the USA for higher studies. There she meets the man who becomes her husband and follows him to his hometown, Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, not very far from Kolkata, still a different country.
Here, Uma embarks on a profound journey which instils lessons on being loved and unloved, being betrayed and betrayed, sacrifices and selfishness and all other grey areas which make a human.
“The choices we make defines our story and our choices are often guided by morality. But sometimes circumstances blurs the region between what’s right and what’s wrong and changes it into what’s good for you and what’s not.”
A Tale of Two Cities
In the 1970s, Dhaka was in the middle of a revolution, political uprising and famine.
Uma finds Dhaka to be like a mirror of her own city Kolkata and finds the similarities in the way people walk and talk, cry and laugh. Although she is surrounded by well-wishers and friends, she often feels lonely and isolated.
Her marriage is not a smooth one, and it raises far too many eyebrows in the neighbourhood. She has to enjoy small delights like lighting lamps on Diwali secretly to avoid suspicion. The charged atmosphere in Dhaka made it very difficult to continue life normally.
She feels utterly alone in the new city and often remembers her good old days in Kolkata when she woke up in the morning to the sound of bells ringing from the puja room.
The evening addas over a cup of tea with her husband and friends was the only time she felt alive. Shaukat, Jamal, Nasreen, Ifti and Maqbul were the friends of her husband from college days and they steer the subplots giving us glimpses of the political turmoil prevalent during that era.
Being a Bengali, I could relate to Uma and found the little details mentioned in the story to be amusing. It was a very interesting and enlightening read for me and taught me more about the history of Bangladesh than my history classes did. It showed me how we are so similar yet so different, and how the decisions of a few leaders can change the course of our lives.
Chitrita Banerji is a food historian by profession and has a knack for describing cuisines and dishes in a beautiful manner. Throughout the book, one will find mentions and descriptions of authentic Bengali dishes and how they are prepared differently in East and West Bengal. She also has a knack for storytelling and weaved a fine plot with an unexpected but heartwarming end.
“She wondered now, what had freedom brought her after all these years? Would she able to fly again, or had she lost her wings forever?”
Recommended for: Although this is her debut novel, she did a good job painting the characters in a realistic manner and weaving a fine plot. So I recommend it to anyone who is up for a light read. Mirror City will enlighten one about the way of life in a country that gave birth to many literary icons.