Synopsis: When she lands in Calcutta’s Sealdah railway station on a humid day in 1949, Amala Manna has managed to flee from the communal violence in her village, but not from all her trials. Within moments of crossing over to India as a refugee from East Pakistan, she loses Kartik, her younger brother. Thanks to a group of young volunteers, Amala finds her way to a refugee camp in Gariahata where she meets Manas Dutta, who is the leader of the volunteer group. Despite the sordid camp life, Amala finds sustenance in her quest to find Kartik and the new familial bonds the camp allows her to forge with complete strangers. With dwindling official support, the situation in the camp deteriorates, and the refugees take things into their own hands. They establish Bijoy Nagar—literally meaning Victory Colony – by occupying a zamindar’s vacant plot of land. This dramatic event is a harbinger of radical shifts in Amala’s personal life.
‘Victory Colony, 1950’ is the story of the resilience of refugees from East Pakistan, who found themselves largely unwanted on either side of the border following the partition of India in 1947. In the face of government apathy and public disdain, the refugees built their lives from the bottom up with sheer hard work and persistence, changing, in the process, the socio-cultural landscape of Calcutta—the city they claimed as home—forever.
Before I get into the review, I would like to thank Ms. Ghosh for sending me this book to review! I am so honoured that you trusted me to review this book, and it has been a pleasure reading your work. Also, this review will contain spoilers! So please proceed with caution.
Victory Colony, 1950 is set in Calcutta shortly after the partition of India, and follows the story of two people from vastly different backgrounds. One protagonist, Amala, is a refugee from what was once East Bengal, who arrives in Calcutta with her brother Kartik after fleeing violence in her community and the death of her parents. Our other protagonist is Manas, a student and volunteer in the refugee camp that Amala becomes a part of, who comes from a wealthy family. The book follows their experiences in the refugee camp and beyond that, into Bijoy Nagar, the community that the refugees create for themselves.
Even though this book was incredibly realistic, it didn’t focus on the brutalities and violence that many refugees face when they are forced to migrate, but instead tried to focus on their successes and the joy that they create. Scenes of people in Bijoy Nagar getting married, or setting up their own businesses, or even just everyday interactions between Amala, Malati and Nimai (her chosen family and later on her parental figures) were so beautiful and touching. Ghosh doesn’t ignore the violence that these characters endured, but she makes sure that they aren’t the main focus of the book. Instead she focuses on the community that the refugees create for themselves, and the resiliency that is inside of the residents of Bijoy Nagar.
On top of the beautiful scenes that Ghosh writes, her characters are also incredibly written. Amala and Manas are obviously given a lot of development as they are the main narrators, but even characters like Chitra, Malati, Nimai, and Urmila receive their fair share of development. Watching the characters grow together and support each other was really lovely, and even just halfway through the book I became very invested in seeing how their relationships panned out.
I also thought that the portrayal of power in this book was really interesting. Again, a part of my master’s thesis is all about analyzing power relationships between refugees and immigration officials, and seeing how Ghosh portrayed them in this book felt very real to me. Their attitude of indifference to how things are run in the camp, such as what programs are created for the refugees or how many meals are provided by the government. Then on the other hand, there are also belligerent or corrupt authorities, like the police that Amala meets in the second chapter, or the camp official, who almost don’t see refugees as people. Seeing Ghosh portray how people in power respond to the needs of refugees was both upsetting and unfortunately accurate, and is a reminder to do better.
One thing that I did find was that the ending of the book was rushed. For example, Amala and Manas’ wedding takes place almost two-thirds of the way through the book, but after that there is a ton of conflict and inter-personal relationships that are introduced. Specifically within the last 10 pages of the book, two conflicts that I was really interested in were resolved very quickly, and I wish that more time had been devoted to both resolving them and seeing how that affected Amala and Manas. I’m not sure that I would have removed anything before the wedding, but maybe adding on even 10 more pages could have helped with pacing at the end! On top of that, I think a bit more editing could have been done, so that there was a bit more dialogue and less narration of events.
Overall though, this was a lovely book, and I cannot thank Ms. Ghosh enough for trusting me to review it. If you haven’t already, I suggest that you pick up Victory Colony, 1950!
See you later ducks!