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Jangam by Debendranath Acharya

A Goanese survivor recounts her brother's experiences: 'One day he saw beautiful butterflies in a certain spot. He looked around expecting to see a lot of flowers in this area but what he saw horrified him. The butterflies were covering a bloated corpse and they must have been feasting off the juices that oozed from the decaying body.' Painting such terrifying images of of death and decrepitude, Jangam's narrator says that these butterflies had exclusive sovereignty (xamarajyo) in this realm of death.

A study in contrasts, glimpsed at in this line from its introduction, as the tale of an Indian peasant's family and their neighbours making their way back to India in the wake of WWII and the rise of Burmese nationalism unfolds. Their flight is facilitated by a nationalist to whom they've been family, a nationalist who later pays dearly for aiding them but who had wanted them gone. The Indians themselves struggle to retain their humanity on their arduous journey through natural environs both stunningly beautiful and utterly uncompromising. The novel elides the fact of differential treatment accorded to people with white skin and brown skin during the exodus and seems unaware of effectively speaking from the position of a coloniser but, even so, it highlights a largely ignored historical episode. (trans. Amit R Baishya)