I have loved all the works of Arunava Sinha that he has translated from Bengali into English. I have started trusting his choice of works to translate. So when The Fifth Man by Bani Basu hit the stands, I picked it up to read. I did not enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed other translations by Sinha, but nonetheless, I did enjoy the book.
Bani Basu weaves the story of a few couples whose lives are all entangled from the past and well into the present. Based in Pune, this is the story of Bengalis living and visiting Pune, reconnecting with their pasts and fantasizing about their present and future. If I sound confused, this is how the story also made me feel. The story is full of knots that I assume the author would have wanted to open one by one, but she kept introducing characters to make the story more entangled.
The Fifth Man by Bani Basu mirrors the world of self-proclaimed Intellectuals, specifically Bengalis. It is a look at the complex relationships that usually begins during student days in college – among the young good-looking women and the intellectual sounding men including some professors. Everyone sleeps around with everyone. Some of them get married and some remain single. Some move on and get entangled with the new ones too. One day one of the old flames decides to travel to Ajanta Ellora and by some stroke of destiny, all the people from past and present converge together at the historical monuments. Passions, egos, and emotions flow. I understand there are open relationships and some people are just perfectly ok with it irrespective of what the societal norms expected of them. Does it really reflect the world of those people – I am not sure.
Of all the characters, I wondered whose story it was. Was it the story of the women who married a poet but gave birth to the daughter of her professor. Lost her womanhood at a young age but was a hot favorite with all the men around her. Was it the story of a woman who chose to remain single. And who is now traveling around the world in the hope of discovering herself? And is living as detached a life as she can. Was it the story of a couple that lives with the fact that woman is no longer a woman. And the daughter that they are raising as theirs, biologically belongs to only one of them? Was it the story of a professor who took advantage of his mental superiority over his female students and is now looking forward to settling down with one of them?
Is it the story of affection and envy co-existing among various characters? Is it the story of men who are always mentally undressing all women around them? If there was anything subtle that the author was trying to say, I could not gather it. Until the end of the book, I kept trying to make sense of the passionate friction between various characters.
The back cover of the book The Fifth Man by Bani Basu says Middle Age Desire. That is a new term that I learned from this book. Although to me story sounded like age-old desires that refuse to die.
Take your call.