Weird #63: “The Discovery of Telenapota” by Premendra Mitra (1984)

An old, stone temple with high pillasters towers above.
Photo credit: Mike Prince

Premendra Mitra’s “The Discovery of Telenapota” (1984) is an atmospheric tale consisting of a journey to a ruined, Gothic palace in malaria-soaked jungle and the promise one man makes to its princess but never fulfills.

Calling back to Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore’s “The Hungry Stones” contained earlier in this anthology (1916), Mitra, who is also Bengali, adapts the Gothic tale to an Indian setting. 

Mitra builds Telenapota as a setting that calls out with a distinct promise to every person who makes the journey. The protagonist is lured there on the promise of a magic pool for fishish, but a different thing draws each of his companions. Each character is drawn to Telenapota in their own way, inexorably, dreamingly.

The past in Telenapota is languorous, stuck. The palace’s ruins stand “like litigants, waiting in futile hope, for the recording of some evidence in the court of time.” Apparently empty but for a mosquito species described as “the aristocrat who carries malaria in its bite,” the ruins hint at unfinished business, while the second-person, future tense gives a sense that this story has happened before and will happen again.

While fishing in the palace pool, the second-person protagonist glimpses her “pushing away the floating reeds and filling up a shining brass pitcher.” It is the princess, Jamini, who appears on stage like an apparition, her eyes imbued with a deep, crumbling sorrow. She has been awaiting the return of Niranjan, her fiancé, ever since he left for abroad.

However, Niran never did fulfill his promise coming back, and while Jamini and Niran’s mother continue to live in the palace, the entire town of Telenapota perishes from malaria.

Many years later, when their palace has crumbled, the mother, who has kept “death at bay” waiting for her son’s return, mistakes the protagonist as her long-lost son. She has him promise to marry Jamini. He returns the promise, repeating Niran’s pledge—in effect, becoming Niran himself in the eyes of the nearly blind mother.

However, after the protagonist leaves to return to his world, he catches malaria himself. In the end, his fever and “the usual traumas of the commonplace” push his memory of Telenapota into the distance, his memory of Jamini becoming “a vague, indistinct dream, like the memory of a star that has fallen.” He forgets the magic palace he once visited.

Like Egnaro or the volcanic island in “Mister Taylor,” Telenapota has an air of the inevitable and the allegorical, a representation of a psychological state more than a real place. It’s a melancholic ruin with a powerful affect.

Next week, I will read from “Soft” by E. Paul Wilson (1984).

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