Speaking Tiger to publish Nabendu Ghosh’s Mistress of Melodies edited by Ratnottama Sengupta

Speaking Tiger will publish the Mistress of Melodies: Stories of Courtesans and Prostituted Women by legendary screenwriter Nabendu Ghosh.

Price: INR 350 / Format: Paperback / Pgs: 208

Picture Credit: Speaking Tiger

Brilliantly translated and edited by Ratnottama Sengupta, this collection of stories by Nabendu Ghosh give us some of the strongest women in Indian fiction from the most misunderstood section of human beings—women involved in sex work and courtesans. The book also features a foreword by celebrated filmmaker Muzaffar Ali.

Announcing its release, editor Ratnottama Sengupta says: “When I hear the term ‘sex worker,’ I always want to know: ‘Did she choose prostitution as a career option? Did Chandramukhi of Devdas apply for the job in a kotha? Do today’s brothel inmates enjoy job security? Promotions? Retirement benefits? Was any glamorous Baiji in Chitpore ever counseled about the abuse inherent in her job? Does the trafficked housewife Chhaya of Market Price have the option to quit the job? Can Basana of Dregs go for a career change?’ Because the answer to all my questions are an emphatic NO, I reject the 20th-century term that implies prostitution is an innocuous, even wholesome work like a telephone operator’s, or a dentist’s secretary…

And long before I learned to pose these questions, Nabendu Ghosh showed it is far from the truth  – as these stories illustrate.” 

In his foreword to the book, Muzaffar Ali writes: “Straddling the worlds of Bombay and Calcutta through his writings, Nabenduda helps us relive that harsh yet touching past, with each story making us stop and ponder: what did the women feel when they had to sell their art, their hearts, and souls along with their bodies, within the short-lived span of their beauty and charm? He shows how they were exploited at every turn where they showed any sign of weakness. He evokes the pathos of lives that walked a tightrope until they could balance no more. And often that was how their saga faded, with no one turning to look back upon them.”


In Mistress of Melodies, Nabendu Ghosh traverses the streets of the ever-changing city of Calcutta to tell the stories of women—courtesans and those who engaged in sex-work—across generations. There is the innocent Chhaya, a widow who elopes and remarries only to be duped by her new husband. The gritty Basana, who sees the highs and lows of life after being drawn into prostitution as an adolescent. Hasina, the alluring baiji, who auctions her adolescent daughter’s virginity to the highest bidder and lives to regret it. The fierce Tagar who is abandoned when pregnant and is drawn into the world of prostitution, but leaves it to give love another chance. Fatima, a brave mother, who would rather sell her body than let hunger drive her and her son to their deaths. And finally, Gauhar Jaan, the songstress who enchants every man she meets but yearns for a true love who will accept her for who she is.

Poignant, evocative and intensely human, Mistress of Melodies features some of the strongest women in Indian fiction created by Nabendu Ghosh, the legendary screenwriter who scripted immortal classics such as Abhimaan, Devdas and Bandini, among others.


Nabendu Ghosh (1917-2007) was a dancer, novelist, short-story writer, film director, actor and screenwriter. He was the recipient of numerous literary and film awards, including the National Film Award for Best First Film of a Director.


Ratnottama Sengupta has written Krishna’s Cosmos, a biography of the printmaker Krishna Reddy. She has been a member of the Central Board of Film Certification, served on the jury of the National Film Awards, and has herself won a National Film Award.


Speaking Tiger Books is an independent publishing company based in New Delhi. Founded in September 2014, the company publishes a diverse list comprising quality fiction and non-fiction from South Asia and the rest of the world. Among our authors are both veterans and exciting new voices: Nayantara Sahgal, Ruskin Bond, Shanta Gokhale, Jerry Pinto, Mark Tully, Wendy Doniger, Upamanyu Chatterjee, Nandita Haksar, Harsh Mander, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Madhavi Menon and  Ravish Kumar, to name a few. Our authors have won or been on shortlists of all major literary prizes, including the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Crossword Book Award, the Hindu Literature Prize, the DSC Prize for South Asian Fiction, the JCB Prize and the Tata Literature Live Awards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *