Book Excerpt: Six Acres and a Third

I’m currently reading Six Acres and a Third by Fakir Mohan Senapati for my paper of Indian Writing in Translation. The novel is originally written in Oriya and is set in colonial times. I am enjoying this novel very much, particularly the narration.

To give you all an idea of how amusing the novel is, I’m sharing an excerpt below. Now reading an excerpt certainly demands a lot of time and you might end up not enjoying it. So before presenting the excerpt, I’m sharing a quote, after reading which you may decide to continue or not.

… people would remark that the Brahmins were fighting like dogs over a handful of rice. … The comparison is quite inappropriate: Brahmins fight over rice offered to departed souls, whereas dogs fight over rice left over by the living; rice offered to the departed souls is merely soaked, whereas that left over by the living is cooked; dogs bite each, whereas Brahmins beat each other-they do not bite or scratch.

So now if you wish you may continue to the excerpt but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Jasoda was sitting in the water cleaning her teeth. Markandia, a five-year-old boy, who was jumping about and muddying the water, happened to splatter her. Jasoda stood up, screamed at the boy in foul language, and cursed him with a short life-whereupon Markandia’s mother rushed in and shouted back at Jasoda in matching language. In the end Markanida’s mother was vanquished; she slapped her son, picked up her pitcher, and, grabbing Markandia’s hand, retreated resentfully. Markandia began to howl, baring all his teeth, and on this note the great battle at the ghat ended.

The sound of the thunder lingers long after lightning flashes. The quarrel was over, but talk about it continued. The middle-aged women formed one group and the older women another, one group siding with Markandia’s other and the other with Jasoda. For our part, we are entirely behind Jasoda. … Markandia was the cause of all the trouble. He was definitely the villian; his crime was unpardonable. … After all, as you know, water is life, and everyone used water from the weaver’ ghat for drinking. Markandia dirtied this water. Would you consider this a small crime?

Now about twenty women arrived at the ghat to bathe. They all stepped into the pond, sat down and started cleaning their teeth. Milk-white spittle from their mouths floated about in the pond, along with the bits of reddish stuff they scraped off their tongues. We hesitate to describe what else was floating there, since all the women had just relieved themselves in the nearby fields. Even Jasoda would admit she herself had done the same. It is a time-honored practice, not a crime, and therefore there is no reason why it should not be written. Once someone joked that for every pitcherful of water women carried from the pond they discharged a quarter back into it. … More women, carrying bed linens, arrived and began washing them in the ghat; some washed their children’s dirty clothing in the water. But, we are sure none of them made the water filthy by jumping about in it, like Markandia had. Unless you do that, how can the water become dirty? Therefore considering all the evidence, we conclude that Markandia’s crime was definitely of a very serious nature.

Do share your views about the excerpt and if you’ve read this novel or any other by this author? Thanks.


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