Bengali King Of Queer Writing
Krishnagopal Mallick’s ‘Entering the Maze’ is now available in English
What better time to be introduced to the queer fiction of Krishnagopal Mallick than today during the Pride Month of June. Who is Mallick, you might ask. And it would not be wrong if you do so as his books have been long out of print. Even in the Bengali literary circle most people are ignorant of Mallick to this day.
Now thanks to Professor Niladri R. Chatterjee, this Bengali king of queer writing has been translated into English and published in a slender volume of 176 pages titled ‘Entering the Maze’.
There are two short stories in the volume, and ‘Entering the Maze’ is a novella that is a most enjoyable ‘coming of age’ and ‘coming out’ story. What most boys love to do when they are 15 years old is told in a magical style, brimming with enviable frankness.
In his writing, Mallick handles the blossoming of literary awareness along with sexual awakening most sensitively. The effect is almost poetic.
The sheer honesty of the narrator is able to liberate the mind of all desire to want to judge a human being for confessing that he has sex on his mind all the time. Mallick writes about his many sexual encounters in such an amazingly matter-of-fact way that even the very ‘respectable’ and judgemental reader is able to rejoice at the unending joy that the writer says he has allowed himself in life.
The writer’s crystal clear candour and wide-eyed wonder at the pleasures of the flesh is infectious. Even more infectious is his down to earth narration tempered with a great sense of humour. Most joyously Mallick pours out his views on sexuality, including his fascination with bisexuality without batting an eyelid and with no holds barred.
This is what he writes in the short story, ‘The Difficult Path’: “And yet, this, my fifty-ninth year, is very ‘golden age’ of homosexuality. Seeing this grey-haired, yet robust man loiter, young and old call out to me, saying, ‘Come and sit a while. You’ve been walking around long enough’. I can sense that they are lifelong homos, and have fucked around with god knows how many hundreds and thousands like me.
“So, not only do I not sit with them, I don’t even go near them. From a distance of about ten metres I tell him, ‘Don’t do all this, brother/Sir, You’ll catch a disease. VD is still curable. But AIDS will cost you your dear life. you know, don’t you, homosexual contact is one of the most possible sources of AIDS?’
“I have no idea how to understand. But a few have asked me about it and I have seen them since. God knows whether they have quit cruising or have decamped to Shraddhananda Park or Muhammad Ali Park.”
Mallick was born in 1936 and died in 2003, having lived through the bombing of Kolkata during World War II, the communal riots of 1946 and the refugee crisis after the partition of India in 1947. All these incidents are woven into his personal stories about his love for Kolkata, and for sex.
He wrote his first story while still a teenager and he continued to be published regularly in the Presidency College magazine. After finishing his studies from the same college, he worked as a sub-editor in the Statesman for about half a decade. Later he owned a press where he published literary magazines edited by him.
He got married in 1967 and lived a happy family life with his wife, son and daughter-in-law, never ever feeling the need to hide or to give up on his greatest joy of drooling over men and boys even as a senior citizen. His homosexual activities apparently were never in opposition or in conflict with his identity as a married man.
On the acknowledgments page, Professor Chatterjee mentions the unstinting help and support that he had received from the estate of Mallick. He praised the support extended by Mallick’s family as a shining example of the way a translator should be treated by the estate of the author being translated.
“Dr. Durjoy Mallick and his wife, Susama Mullick, have been extremely kind and generous in the way they extended all manner of cooperation to me,” acknowledges the translator.
Mallick wrote for a while under a pseudonym, lending his own name to his protagonist.
But later returned to using his real name to sign off his work. He readily confessed that sex was always on his mind, and that he had basked in homosexuality. He had never felt the need to ever apologise for being a homosexual. No sense of guilt or anguish clouds his writing that remains frank and amusing, making the translator confess that he had on many occasions smiled to himself as he studied Mallick’s work.
Chatterjee had smiled while translating Mallick because he could almost hear the author’s irreverent voice ringing loud and clear as a temple gong with dazzling regularity. Full of irony and reflection.
In ‘Senior Citizen’ the idea is not at all to invoke pity for the elderly in society who are often not treated too kindly by their children and the state. Mallick’s senior citizen is different as he balloons into a perpetrator of sexual harassment beyond all boundaries of decency. Mallick darkens his narrative by giving a detailed description of the protagonist taking advantage of crowded buses to feel up the private parts of attractive young men.
The cheek of the man!
In ‘Senior Citizen’ he writes: “But, on getting on the street, he held my wrist with one hand, my throat with another, and growled, ‘It’s not as though you have long to live. And you are still up to this stuff. Have you no sense of shame no sense of disgust? I was seeing how far you can go.
“I feel like stripping you and giving you a good hiding, knock out all your teeth with one blow, so that you don’t do stuff like this as long as you live. Anyway, I’m leaving it till this for now. I’m letting you off because you are a senior citizen’.
Entering the Maze
Author: Krishnagopal Mallick
Translated by Niladri R. Chatterjee
By Krishnagopal Mallick
Translated by Niladri R. Chatterjee
Published by Niyogi Books, 2023