‘Sahana, or Shamim’ by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha. 

It feels as though there’s been a blossoming of small presses in the UK during the last 5-10 years: Peirene, And Other Stories, Galley Beggar, Fitzcarraldo… Of course there have been small presses long before that, and this just happens to have been the time when I was paying most attention. But it has been such a pleasure to follow these publishers and expand my reading world.

This story comes from another recently established small publisher: Deborah Smith’s Tilted Axis Press. Panty was Tilted Axis’ first book, an intense novel of sexuality and blurred identity. It was a strong opening statement for a publisher; this story also stayed long in my mind.

Paramesh set Sahana a rule for their relationship: she could not eat anything non-vegetarian in the house, and most especially she was to eat no fish anywhere. She was willing to make the sacrifice and managed for two years… But she liked fish too much. As the story begins, we see her bringing fish home, cooking and eating it in secret, and doing her best to eliminate the odour – all the while frightened that Paramesh might find out. However, eating fish again leads Sahana to push against other boundaries in her life.

The shifting focus on its protagonist’s psychology is what really makes Bandyopadhyay’s story work for me. It’s a character study of considerable power.

(Read and published in a volume with the novel Panty (Tilted Axis Press, 2016). Available to read online here)

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