The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die

by Chandra Sundeep
Cover picture - the aunt who wouldn't die

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die is a contemporary classic novella about three generations of Bengali women who defy all expectations. Originally written in Bengali by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, it was titled Goynar Baksho. It was translated by Arunava Sinha into English in 2017 and also adapted into a movie, Goynar Baksho, in 2013. Earlier this year, I had read An Educated Woman In Prostitution, another Bengali work translated by Arunava Sinha, and since then I’ve become his fan! 

The novella set in post-Independence era revolves around a large East Bengal zamindari family in decline. The intertwined lives of a mother, Somlata, a daughter, Boshon, and the ghost of a widowed aunt-Pishima, form the storyline of this delightful book.

Somlata, a young bride of 18, is married into the dynastic, multi-generational Mitra family. Traditionally rich, their fortunes are now dwindling. Having resorted to selling family land and gold for daily survival, the decline is obvious, but the men-folk remain proud of their status and ignorant of the extent of their fall.

One day, the restless bride climbs to the roof for fresh air. To reach the roof, she has to cross the apartment of her husband’s aunt, a disgruntled widow who spits fire at one and all. Somlata is horrified at finding the aunt’s cold, dead body. Unfortunately for her, the dead aunt’s spirit is still hovering about. And the ghost is as mean, angry and jealous as the dead person. But it is not a super-natural thriller, but the story of intergenerational female rage, patriarchal injustices, jealousy, hardships and the complexities of human relationships.

Pishima is a quirky character with a strangely twisted sense of humour. Widowed at the tender age of twelve, she has led an austere life filled with unhappiness and resentment. She holds a strong grudge against her brothers for never allowing her to live a happy life. She believes it is only because of her wealth she had a roof over her head and the members tolerated the unloved widow. Now, at 70, having become a ghost, Pishima awaits to avenge the Mitra family and her ghost instructs Somlata to take care of her box of gold and keep it away from the Mitras.

The novella is narrated in four chapters, alternating between two characters Somlata and her daughter Boshon who is a book-loving, scooter-riding, rebellious teenager who doesn’t want to get married in the traditional manner whereby elders arrange the match. She yearns for freedom and wants to go to college. Perhaps it is Pishima’s spirit which fuels her energy and restlessness.

It is the three characters Somlata, Pishima and Boshon who bring this story alive. Somlata, despite being from a poor family, knows the art of ‘managing’ her husband. With her efforts, the family is able to make a fortune once again. Her strength lies in her tact and resilience. She controls the show but remains behind the screen. She is a remarkable character and lends charm to the narration. Pishima, a disgruntled character, continues to haunt Somlata. Her crass language and venomous barbs are tinged with a dry sense of humour; thus, she comes across as more than just a sad widow. Her interactions with Somlata depict her simmering rage, as she talks about taboo subjects – her unachieved sexual desires and the debauchery of married male members of the family.

However, I felt that Boshon’s character hasn’t been fully explored. Though she is headstrong and confident, I wanted to know more about her. The shift from 1st chapter to 2nd was abrupt as until then Boshon’s character had not been introduced. (If not for these, I would have easily given this book 5 stars!)

The family dynamics, Bengali culture and setting make the narration absolutely beautiful. Mukhopadhyay highlights the evils of child marriage, resistance to widow-remarriage, and patriarchical control in a balanced manner. 

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die is an engrossing family drama, and the story is as interesting as the title itself. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novella.


Wordsopedia Rating 4.5/5


Title: The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die Author: Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay
Publisher: HarperVia Publication date: July 28, 2020
Genre: Fiction–Contemporary Classic Format: eBook
ISBN: 978-0062976321 No. of Pages: 160

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About the Author

Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay is a Bengali author from India. He has written stories for both adults and children. He is known for creating the relatively new fictional sleuths, Barodacharan, Fatik, and Shabor Dasgupta.

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