The Magic Web and Other Stories: Ashapurna Debi on the Widow and Her World
Ashapurna Debi and Jharna Sanyal (Tr.)
140 x 216 mm
Year of Publishing
Territorial Rights
Orient BlackSwan

The Magic Web and Other Stories is a collection of eighteen of Ashapurna Debi’s short stories on the lives of widows. One of the most prolific creative writers in Indian literature, Ashapurna Debi is known for her incisive chronicles of the Bengali middle-class. With women as her chosen subjects, her stories voice suppressed histories of intimate lives, and probe into the familial and social dynamics of relationships analysing the play of gender, caste and class.

Through these stories, we are introduced to ritual-oriented drudges and gossip-mongering women, and to unbecoming women who refuse to hear the voice of everyday morality and silence the promptings of received values. One finds in the stories the rational, sensible, modern, urban gentleman all but merely the camouflaged victims of patriarchy. There are also tales where traces of deeply entrenched desires, expressed through gestures and silences, signify the buried yet pulsating emotions in the lives of women.

Between conscience and custom, reason and prejudice, oppression and agency, these narratives show a rare sensitiveness to the deprivations and vulnerabilities, the triumphs and rebellion, the noise amidst the silences of the widow and her world.

Jharna Sanyal masterfully retains this sensitiveness in a translation that is both confident and compassionate. To those wishing to savour the richness of Ashapurana Debi’s writings, this is a gift!

The Author
Ashapurna Debi was born in 1909 into a conservative, middle-class family in Calcutta. She did not have any access to formal education but encouraged by her mother, she learnt to read and write on her own and published her first poem in the children’s magazine Shishu Saathi. Even after her marriage at fifteen to Kalidas Gupta of Krishnanagar, her passion for literature, her indomitable will to write and the diligence with which she honed her talent remained unabated. She could not wait for a room of her own nor for an independent income to begin or continue with her writing and so she made writing a part of her everyday life. One of the most incisive chroniclers of our middle-class mentalities, her work includes more than two hundred novels and novelettes, about thirty-seven collections of short stories, and about sixty-seven books for children. Some works are yet to be published. Her contribution to Indian literature was acknowledged through the numerous awards she received, among them the Rabindra Puraskar in 1966, the Padma Shri in 1976, and the Bharatiya Jnanpith in 1977. She died in 1995.

The Translator
Jharna Sanyal is Professor of English, University of Calcutta. She has published articles on the interface between Bengal and Britain in the nineteenth and twentieth century. She has edited 19th Century Poetry and Prose: A Selection (Macmillan, 2002) and co-authored Narratives of Frailty: Saratchandra Chattopadhyay and the Colonial Encounter—An Alternative Mode of Hindu Self-fashioning (Dasgupta & Co., 2008). She has also translated Bengali short stories and essays for various anthologies and journals.

Remembering Choto-thakuma
A Note on Translation
1 Addiction
2 Bibi Begum’s Shiva Temple
3 Expiation
4 Insensible 
5 Of Kith and Kin
6 One Death and Another
7 Playing with Fire
8 Prejudice
9 Raju’s Mother
10 Reflection
11 The Chatter-box
12 The Deceiver
13 The Egotist 
14 The Invitation
15 The Magic Web
16 The Runaway
17 Transgression
18 Water and Fire

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