The short story “Dumba Chora”(2021) by author Chandreyee Lahiri was chosen by the Boston Book Festival as the 2021 One City One Story Project.
The purpose of the Boston Book Festival is to celebrate the power of storytelling with events that showcase the impact of strong words. One City One Story is an excellent example of these intentions. In 2010, the project began with the distribution of Tom Perrotta’s story “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face.” The story was available to the public either by free download or at giveaways throughout Boston. Additionally, the Boston Book Festival hosted discussions about the story. Each year, the Boston Book Festival chooses a new story to bring the Boston community together through a shared reading experience.
Chandreyee Lahiri, a local from Waltham, Mass., was born in Kolkata, India, spent time in Africa and the Middle East, and lived again in India during her adolescent years. Pursuit of a graduate program led her to the United States. In her spare time, she satiates her passion for writing with blogging, fiction groups and literature competitions.
She has an optimistic view on life, appreciating the little things that make it impactful. These values are reflected in her fiction, especially in her short story “Dumba Chora.”
“Dumba Chora” chronicles the relationship between Shekhar and Sutapa, a recently married couple with lingering trust issues. Their boatman Rehman is an important character as well — his past experiences with love surface through their turmoil. Bound to the delta mud in the twisting mangrove forests of Sundarbans (an area of Bangladesh and India), due to their unyielding boat discouraged by the low tide, the characters must face their conflicts.
The ominous depth of the jungle and the darkness of the settling night establish a pulling anxiety at the start. Lahiri’s selection of details, such as the “shrill chattering” of rhesus monkeys, the dangerous peaks of the mud expanse and the tiger also add uncertainty.
The new bride Sutapa increases the tension when she reveals to her husband that she had a relationship with another man before their marriage. Shekhar, however, already knows this.
Lahiri explores the complex emotions each partner feels regarding their union, as it is shadowed by strict tradition.
Shekhar never predicted he would be in an arranged marriage; society was more ‘progressive’ now, so younger people could refuse them. He was lonely, however, and an arranged marriage fixed his solitude. Still, he seems to truly love and appreciate his wife.
Sutapa had already been in love, so Shekhar thought she was uneasy with their marriage, fearing she still loved the other man.
Shekhar hates the “archaic” traditions dictating that a woman is ruined if she has premarital relations; it enforces a gross double-standard in which women face stricter rules than men. Still, Sutapa falsely believes her husband is distant from her because of these traditions, so she confronts him angrily, and he falls from their boat into the mud.
This simple detail reveals Sutapa’s devotion to her husband as she immediately worries she has hurt him. After ensuring that he is OK, the couple reconciles — Shekhar admits he only gave her space because he feared she still loved her previous partner.
With their miscommunication settled, a new conflict arises: a tiger appears from the forest. At this point, having viewed the couple’s fight and reconciliation, Rehman is reminded of his relationship with his bride Roshida, who died after a short life. Caught in the emotion of the newlyweds and his own grief, he bravely scares the tiger away with aggressive noises.
The story ends with Sutapa and Shekhar being rescued by the Forest Service. Sutapa worries Rehman will face more danger while he waits with the boat. However, Lahiri’s impactful final words reveal his growth: he is no longer afraid of loneliness. He put much effort into his life, was rewarded with a beautiful bride and is calmly aware that with her death, life can take nothing more from him.
A description of the jungle ends the story, fitting as it emphasizes that life continues even with the complications that come from human connection.
Lahiri’s story is available for free download on the Boston Book Festival website. It can also be found in print at locations around Boston. The Boston Book Festival will hold a discussion with Lahiri about her story on Oct. 21 at 6 p.m., which you can register for here. Additionally, there will be a virtual reading and Q&A at the Waltham Public Library on Nov. 3.
Join the Boston community and read “Dumba Chora.” Its modern, optimistic perspective on tradition and moving stance on relationships will propel you into the “city-wide” discussion.