In 1947, and then in 1971, in the South Asian subcontinent, entire communities of people crossed newly-created borders to find new homes as partitions divided and reshaped countries. Kalyani Thakur’s beautiful and evocative novel, tells the story of her people, Dalits belonging to the Matua sect, who settled around a local water body – Andhar Bil – in the new nation. Reminiscent of the beloved bil they left behind at home, the refugees begin, slowly and painfully, to rebuild their lives.
As children play in and around the bil – the central ‘character’ in the novel – people seek out varieties of fish and cook them in ways that recall the flavours of home, festivals and boat races take place, jute is farmed and sold, floods arrive and push people to high ground, marriages happen and property disputes unfold. The still waters of the bil absorb and hold all these stories and the boroi tree stands in the centre of the bil, a silent witness to everything.
Through this episodic, almost plotless novel is woven the story of Kamalini, a young girl who will, one day, journey to the city, leaving her beloved Andhar Bil behind, just as her parents’ generation left their villages and their beloved bil in what became another country.