Overview for The First Promise
Set in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Ashapurna Debi's widely acclaimed Pratham Pratisruti, translated as The first promise, attempts to commemorate the struggles and efforts of women, of the mute domestic space, starkly neglected by history. This book, about one of the many unknown women from the ignored interiors of Bengal, also captures the larger social and cultural transformations of the colonial era. In a deceptively easy, conversational style, through episodes that sketch out the rituals, the quarrels and predicaments of women's lives, a compelling story emerges upon the landscapes of rural Bengal and colonial Calcutta. Satyabati, whom we first meet as a vivid and enchanting eight-year-old, a child bride, leaves the remote, rural environment of her husband's village for the capital of British India, to plunge into the world of women's education, social reform agendas, modern medicine and urban entertainment. The urban landscape nurtures Satyabati's hopes and aspirations, in particular, for her daughter. But the promises held out by modernity turn out to be empty, instigating Satyabati to break away from her inherited world and initiate a quest that will take her to the very heart of tradition. Ashapurna's absorbing story creates a rich and vast world, peopled with memorable characters and embodying the dichotomy between tradition and modernity. Indira Chowdhury's confident translation, with its conscious choice of Indian English equivalents over British and American colloquialisms, carries across the language divide, the flavour of Ashapurna's unique idiomatic style.
Ashapurna Devi (Author)
Ashapurna Debi was born in 1909. Her conservative family did not send her to school, but encouraged by her mother, she learnt to read and write on her own and published her first poem in the children's magazine Shishu Saathi. Married at fifteen to Kalidas Gupta of Krishnanagar, She continued to write with his support. Pratham Pratisruti(1964) is the first of a trilogy that includes Subarnalata (1966) and Bakul Katha (1973). Translated here as The First Promise, it won her the Rabindra Puraskar in 1966 and the Bharatiya Jnanpith award in 1977. Ashapurna published 181 novels, 38 anthologies of short stories, and 52 books for children. She died in 1995. Indira Chowdhury has a Ph.D from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and is a Professor at the Department of English, Jadavpur University. She is the author of The Frail Hero and Virile History: Gender and the Politics of Culture in colonial Bengal(1998), which won the Rabindra Puraskar in 2000. Her wide-ranging interests include cultural history, lexicography, and the history of science and medicine in India. She is currently on deputation leave at the National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, where she is involved in setting up an oral history archive for the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.