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Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee, the prolific writer in three languages as a poet, academician and columnist has come out for the first time as a South Asian short story writer on Covid -19 from AuthorHouse, a renowned publisher in the USA with his new book Six Feet Distance: Looking Down to Lockdown which is a wonderful collection of 37 short stories on the pandemic days. As Dr. Elisabetta Marino, from the University of Rome, wrote in the Introduction to the book, “his Six Feet Distance is a powerful collection of short stories which may prove a useful tool to overcome the challenges of the present crisis. Humor, even dark humor, can help us deflate the feeling of disempowerment we are all experiencing.”

Return nurturing Mother Nature in search of momentary solace is the subject of “A Truthful Lie,” which reminds us of Thoreau’s well-known social experiment on Walden pond, which the writer himself mentioned in the narrative. The author who is an author of a number of books in British and American literature shows his deep and outstanding knowledge in many other stories.

In “Corona Caliban in Bermuda,” for instance, references to Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Coleridge’s “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” complicate the plot, which beautifully gives us the feelings of isolation and loneliness we are all sharing in the Pandemic days. Finally, money, property, or real estate has no value when life is at stake for man on the whole globe. This bears a deep philosophical stoicism. It is interesting that Dr. Bhattacharjee has focused correctly on the activity of the creative mind in the lockdown days and this happened even in earlier times when Europe faced the onslaughts of Plague. Shakespeare’s creative genius during lockdown is the subject of “Shakespeare in lockdown,” which ends the collection, as an invitation to be as creative as possible, notwithstanding our toils and tribulations.

Wordsworth’s daffodils are cited in “My Fourteen Days in Hospital,” as a positive replacement for pensive recollection. The artist also devotes some of his most poignant reflections to the animal world. In “Pet Dog Guni in Lockdown,” a dog becomes as sensitive to the lockdown situation as his owners are, thus highlighting the connection between all living creatures; in “Samadrita and His Cat Billu,” the support and consolation offered by pets are also underlined. Here the evil effects of digital addiction in the mind of the children are also exhibited. In this narrative, the cooking maid of an affluent family surprisingly continues to receive her salary, despite her absence from work; solidarity, commonality, thankfulness for the smaller and bigger blessings in our lives are the gifts that the author bestows on his readers, through the stories in the collection.

America-based academician Dr. Nandini Bhattacharya of Texas A&M University USA praised Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee’s remarkable collection of stories, Six Feet Distance, which she regards as a call to action for India’s masses. The stories in this book are basically an eloquent South Asian response to the Corona Virus lockdown days. Engaging, compelling, and above all, timely, the stories in this collection chronicling the time of COVID-19 will leave an indelible impression on readers as the stories demonstrate and refuse being pushed aside, being confined within a state of internalized lockdown that is as economic, emotional, psychological as it is physical due to COVID.

The writer focuses on the agony of the common person from the viewpoint of a man dwelling in Kolkata. In story after story, there are flashes of humor deftly blended in with the poignant narration of the precarious lives of the old, women, children, and the disabled, to name a few. The stories also graphically describe the plight of migrant laborers who lost their children and members of their family during the draconian and imperturbable lockdown, amounting to nothing less than democide, imposed in the early days of the pandemic in India by the government at the same time on the atrocious corruption and greed of profiteering businessmen and undeterred by human suffering.

The 2020 pandemic has changed our lives and the world in innumerable ways. Some of these experiences will be forgotten as too intolerable; others will be suppressed as too shameful, but the stories in Six Feet Distance will keep readers submerged and engaged in a lucid reverie. “It is a highly recommended read as a chronicle of our times” as Dr. Nandini Bhattacharya wrote in her preface to the book. Bhattacharjee’s narrative endeavor is a gift to all of us who have felt confusion and disruption due to this situation of global reach but the intimate experience.

When there has been a steep rise in reported cases of mental health problems and resultant deaths too. COVID 19 in this traumatic period of human history, literature that has been produced by several creative minds will stand as a testimony of our collective experience across the globe.

Bhattacharjee’s Six Feet Distance: Looking Back to Lockdown Days as Assam based Dr. Payel Datta Chowdhury, Director of Humanities in Reva University feels it “is one such timely anthology of illuminating and heart-rendering narratives that record how human lives have been radically transformed with the Corona Virus still creating havoc in our lives. The story “Euphoria and Disillusionment”, emphasizing the sudden demand for sanitizers and masks and the resultant shortage, will definitely ring a bell with all readers.

In “Merits of Mask”, the author looks beyond the superficial meaning of ‘masks’ which we are accustomed to these days and questions the veiled nature of people that we find so difficult to understand. The book brings out varied experiences of lockdown and the pandemic. Dr. Bhattacharjee fictionalizes the horrible agony and frustration that prevailed. Finally, it may be concluded that this is the first book of its kind on Lockdown days which can be counted as a significant South Asian response published from abroad.

DR DANIELA ROGOBETE

Dr. Daniela Rogobete is an Associate Professor of the University of Craiova and may be reached at dani.rogobete@yahoo.com

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