‘When did you enter this profession?’ he asks her.
‘What’s the use of asking such questions? Do you wish to become another Devdas?’
In Mistress of Melodies, Nabendu Ghosh traverses the streets of the ever-changing city of Calcutta to tell the stories of women—courtesans and those who engaged in sex-work—across generations. There is the innocent Chhaya, a widow who elopes and remarries only to be duped by her new husband. The gritty Basana, who sees the highs and lows of life after being drawn into prostitution as an adolescent. Hasina, the alluring baiji, who auctions her adolescent daughter’s virginity to the highest bidder and lives to regret it. The fierce Tagar who is abandoned when pregnant and is drawn into the world of prostitution, but leaves it to give love another chance. Fatima, a brave mother, who would rather sell her body than let hunger drive her and her son to their deaths. And finally, Gauhar Jaan, the songstress who enchants every man she meets but yearns for a true love who will accept her for who she is.
Poignant, evocative and intensely human, Mistress of Melodies features some of the strongest women in Indian fiction created by Nabendu Ghosh, the legendary screenwriter who scripted immortal classics such as Abhimaan, Devdas and Bandini, among others.
In this collection—ranging from stories of love found and lost to tales of the supernatural—Ghosh masterfully traces the inscrutable ways of the human heart. The reigning queen of Bombay cinema allows a younger leading man to fall in love with her to spite her husband. A schoolmaster’s ravishing wife joins him in the small town where he works, inspires him to build a garden for her, and sets about wrecking his life. An impoverished student sits across a purdah from a nawab’s begum; she dictates letters to her husband and, as the student takes down her words, he falls into forbidden love with the voice from across the screen. And an unbending priest from Noakhali finds all the principles of his life upended after Muslim rioters kidnap his daughter.
Marked by psychological insight, keen observation and vivid prose, That Bird Called Happiness brings to readers the work of one of the greats—not only of Bengali literature but of the Indian literary canon.