About The Author-
The author Dibakar Purkayastha is born in North East India in the fifties of the last century. He did his entire academics till graduation from Shillong, one small hill station thereat and thus he closely saw both social and cultural activities of the different ethnic groups of the population residing at different states and stations of Northeast India, and soon he started writing poems and articles in the little magazine from a very early age. He wrote his maiden novel ‘Log Out North East India’ which was self-published through partridge of USA ( a penguin random subsidiary) in 2015 and was widely read in Northeast India. He contributes columns in leading daily newspapers in Northeast India. As a cultural cognoscenti, he attended many seminars, both virtual and physical of which most prominent was in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2016 as an invited delegate in the birth centenary celebrations of eminent singer Dr Bhupen Hazarika along with a galaxy of other dignitaries.
Since time immemorial, it has always been urged to be accommodating towards people the way they are. But human nature is such that instead of being accommodative, the attitude is cold and insensitive towards the people who are unusual or different or just different from the ordinary. A tale of this ordeal finds resonance in Dibakar Purkayastha’s novel “Socially Distanced.” The novel in itself holds relevance to multiple aspects ranging from social to psychological as well as touches largely on the issue of acceptance. This acceptance is not restricted to being accepted on the social ladder. It also includes acceptance at the family level, which includes immediate and distant relations. The protagonist, Aamin, longs for this acceptance and the permission to be a part of the existing system the way he is. The story records the struggle and ordeals he goes through during this tough time and how he is forced to fit into the socially constructed role for him.
Purkayastha’s novel is a poignant expression that comes from the heart of the protagonist due to his direct communication with the readers. The predicament of not being able to understand his identity finds an amplified expression from the beginning of the text. The author lets Aamin speak for himself and his life to make sure that the readers for the first impression without any mixing or influenced opinions. Through his first-person account, Aamin narrates the tale of his childhood when he had the initial happy days where he got the love and pampering any ordinary child would get. Things begin to change when it is discovered that he is different from the ordinary. His desire and fight for acceptance are drowned in the innocence that is consumed by many people in the world who he meets at different junctures of his life.
These experiences never let him evolve and explore his identity to understand who he really is and what his orientation is. Every parent teaches their kid not to trust a stranger in their childhood. This lesson is reinforced through Aamin’s becoming a victim of people’s evil intentions, and thus, he suffers. The other ugly game is played by destiny, where he losses the people who genuinely cared for him in the early stages of his life, even before he could reach puberty. This breaks him, but his faith in God remains unmoved. He never forgets to hold him in high regard and always tries to remain hopeful and enjoy the little time he gets to be happy. But as destiny has its plans which the readers can sense too, Thomas Hardy’s quote from The Mayor of Casterbridge,
““Happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain,”
Becomes supremely applicable in Aamin’s life.
“Socially distanced” for once may sound like a work that is inspired by the recently followed covid safety protocol, but the fact is that at one level or another, human beings have been socially distanced for ages. Purkayastha’s novel has just reminded us of the system that has been in existence for almost forever. It may even get the readers thinking for once if the social distance is at a social level or mental level, or discriminatory level. Overall, it opens the readers’ eyes to the truths that have prevailed forever but never been spoken of. Through characters like Hakim, Nazrul, Jay Chandra, Narendra Yadav, and many others, Aamin suffers the fate he had never dreamt of. These people are the representatives of the bad and evil that prevails at a much larger scale than good which is symbolized through the narrator’s family and the church fraternity who later give him shelter.
Aamin’s father is probably the most complicated person to understand. He cares for his son and yet puts him through suffering and lets him suffer further. Although his only intention is the better of his son, which is highlighted by his decision to shift him on the suggestion of his teacher, still, there is a lot more that has to be heard from his father, which the readers don’t get to hear. Overall, the novel has a hold that remains on the reader from the beginning and remains throughout due to the planned turns right towards the end of the chapters and keeping the narrative linear and chronological. Another major attraction is the realistic portrayal of society and the depth with which the author describes the tortures it inflicts on someone who is a little different from the ordinary.
“Socially Distanced” by Dibakar Purkayastha is suggested to readers who like to read content that jolts them and makes them ponder over subjects that are critical for social health and societal integration. It is also suggested to the readers who are interested in reading fiction that holds relevance in the social context and will probably remain relevant as long as a bit different people continue to exist.