Unlike most of Mahasweta Devi’s works, which focus on Bengali tribes and the rural dispossessed, the four stories collected in Bait are located in the urban and suburban criminal underworld, and form an unusual segment of Devi’s oeuvre.
The first story, “Fisherman,” is about a man who recovers the bodies of young boys from the village pond so that the police can pass them off as victims of drowning. “Knife,” on the other hand, is a tongue-in-cheek account of the liminal cultural world of West Bengal, which borders Bangladesh. A young woman makes her own protest against an exploitative establishment as a result of abuse by a politician and his cohorts in “Body.” An unemployed middle-class youth discovers himself after his first “test” killing in the dark story “Killer.”
This collection of fascinating and unsettling stories is anchored by an in-depth introductory essay by cultural historian Sumanta Banerjee who has firsthand familiarity with the settings and situations from his crime-reporting past. Banerjee contextualizes the stories within the development of the growing criminal underworld in Bengal today.