Stories by Ashapurna Debi

Translated by Prasenjit Gupta • Introduction by Jhumpa Lahiri

Prasenjit Gupta: Writings and Translations

Ashapurna Debi (1909-95) is a stalwart among Bengali writers and one of the looming figures in Indian literature of the twentieth century. She writes about middle-class lives and lives touched by poverty and shows us how some of us are able to rise above our circumstances — and how some of us try and fail.

In their victories — and indeed in their defeats — are revealed the depths of our humanity.

In “Poddolota's Dream,” a young girl returns to the scene of a harrowing childhood, magnanimous and victorious for reasons quite her own; in “Grieving for Oneself,” a midnight scare shows an ailing man precisely how he fits into the world he has worked his life to build; in “Glass Beads Diamonds,” a woman attends a wedding reception at her estranged in-laws’, bearing a gift that has cost her far too much. In other stories, a family rues an unexpected disappearance of one of their own, two friends come to terms with a lost friendship, and a couple’s relationship is interrupted the sudden appearance of an old flame.

The stories in Matchbox reveal in brilliant flashes the universal verities embedded within Bengal’s domestic walls. Here is a literary genius at work.

This collection of Ashapurna Debis work features translations by Prasenjit Gupta and an introduction by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Ashapurna Debi (1909-95), the author of dozens of novels, short-story collections, and children’s works, was one of the most significant Bengali writers of the twentieth century. Her best-known novels were the trilogy of Pratham Pratishruti, Subarnalata, and Bakulkatha, which spanned the period from the ’20s to the ’60s, and in which she led the way in tackling women’s issues. In 1978 she received the Gyanpeeth Award and in 1994 she was chosen a Fellow of the Sahitya Akademi.

Prasenjit Gupta is the author of A Brown Man and Other Stories, the children’s novel To the Blue Kings Castle, and a collection of stories translated from Hindi, Indian Errant: Short Stories by Nirmal Verma. A former Fulbright scholar, he writes fiction in English and translates fiction and poetry from Hindi and Bengali into English; he was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship for translating the stories in Matchbox.

Jhumpa Lahiri is the author of The Lowland and three previous works of fiction: Interpreter of Maladies, The Namesake, and Unaccustomed Earth. A recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, a PEN/Hemingway Award, the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2012.

“Ashapurna Debi (1909-95) was one of those rare authors able to render the voice of an entire culture, to capture its nuances and most abiding traditions with startling precision and formidable insight. Translated by Prasenjit Gupta and introduced by Jhumpa Lahiri, Matchbox is an anthology of twenty-one stories by Ashapurna Debi. Each of these stories has been carefully selected from her extensive body of work and brilliantly translated from Bengali to retain the original flavour of the language and Debi’s style, highlighting the tensions inherent in a society of close-knit and inter-dependent families. The stories are written with singular insight, often shocking and always compelling.” — The Statesman

“An accomplished translator, Gupta breaks new ground in the art (and science) of translation studies by creating a Bengali English that captures the nuances of the original far more creatively than regular run-of-the-mill [translations]. If you must pick out only one from this summer [reading] list, then let it be this most radical little text.” — Devapriya Roy, The Telegraph

Matchbox (India: from Amazon; U.S.: from Parabaas)