The locale of Debjān by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
6 November 2010 10:22
Debjān (দেবযান), one of the weakest novels by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, is set in Śāganj-Keotā (শা’গঞ্জ-কেওটা) by the river Bhāgīrathī, usually called the Hooghly. The post office goes by the erroneous name Sahaganj (সাহাগঞ্জ). I have lived in Śāganj continuously from age two to age forty eight, seventeen of them in Śāganj-Keotā – mostly in a house that my mother had built after my father’s death.
Being very fond of BB’s work and the geography of its locales, I had explored, whenever I could, several of them; Śāganj-Keotā was no exception. In the mid-sixties, when my attention was first drawn to Debjān and its locale, there were still a few very old local patriarchs living in the same general area. One of them, who claimed to have known BB, had even pointed out a thin-brick house where, he said, BB had lived once. I was a bit skeptical since it was not strictly in Śāganj-Keotā but in a place nearby then known as Nikiripādā (নিকিরিপাড়া), on the other side of the Bandel Church, nearer Bālir Mor (বালির মোড়). He may also have been right, for someone had later put up a marble plaque on its road-facing wall to that effect. It was inhabited by an unrelated family then, though almost in ruins.
The place-name Śāganj was, without much doubt, derived from Shah Azim, one of Aurangzeb’s grandchildren, who had once set his military camp in the vicinity. The etymology of Keota, I believe, is a corruption of Kaivarta-pada, for there were several Kaivarta families (fisherfolk) still living in the vicinity, and several Śāganj precincts were similarly called Kānsāripādā, Kumorpādā and Khāmārpādā. Overbuilt with ugly, box-like modern structures today, the general area was distinctly sylvan and sparsely populated even in the second half of the nineteen sixties. It was a fitting locale for BB of Niśchindipur fame and the place where young Apu had gone to Prasanna Guruthakur’s pāthaśālā.