Saturday, April 24, 2010

'A New World' by Amit Chaudhuri

A resonating narrative without a beginning or an end; and without the need for either.

Jayojit, a mid-aged economist settled in US is the unmindful protagonist; other characters being Bonny, his 8 year old son, his parents in Calcutta, and flickering from among a spate of inconsequentiial characters, his now divorced wife, Amala.

The story skims over the 2 months of Jayojit's visit to Calcutta to spend that time of the year when he is legally allowed to be with his son. The core of the narrative, I would say (take caution - a book review is always biased by the reader's then state of mind), is around Jayojit's loneliness which is also everyman's loneliness in the present day of disintegration. A solitude which is not black or white, but a familiar grey - it isn't acutely painful or theoretically glorified but as it must be, with an obvious vulnerability but a maturity that one eventually needs and also acquires as one lives and gets to know life. That solitude is what the author sketches as a central subject, and then flanks and accentuates it in his inimitable style while he sets it off against different backgrounds as if to show its verity. There are everyday dialogues, everyday people, everyday places that anyone belonging to Calcutta in some way will relate instantly with - only depicted so insightfully that it is a delectable form for almost any content - every second paragraph is a little piece of art that lingers after the page is turned.

A special mention for the way the author has brought back Amala into the story time and again. Through fleeting reluctant slices of Jayojit's memory, through inanimate family photo frames, deliberate restriction to barely a sentence or two, mostly non-judgemental, in places where Jayojit is forced back to reminiscence and restrospection on his severed marriage. Jayojit's ex-wife is a rightful character in his story more by virtue of her absence than in her reference by the author.

This book is the author's narrative, but through the pages, almost become Jayojit's. And in that, the two mingle and punctuate the book with a million soliloquays of a lone thinking mind. Am tempted to quote a few:
"When Jayojit couldn't sleep the first few nights, he'd reared the morning's Statesman, the headlines became strange at the end of the day, when the appositeness that the news had in the morning - calamities and predictions - had already passed into daily afterlife."
"There was an anger in him, a frustration; whenever there was reason to be angry, he cut himself off. He'd come to a junction in his life where, over-alert, he was no more confident of being understood or of understanding others."
"He felt not the slightest attraction towards this girl, and was reassured to sense that she probably felt none towards him."

While on one hand, this book is bound to generate a feeling of deja vu for seasoned Amit Chaudhuri readers, on another hand - it is perhaps more contemporary, mature and deeper in its subject and takeaways rather than being predominantly anecdotal and stylish.

All in all, a very Bengali and a very English and a very global book. A recommended read for those who had once smiled and laughed and speculated and contemplated between the lines of Strange and Sublime Address, although A New World is decidedly slower if you go by the pace of the narrative.

For the others, I would suggest this be a second Amit Chaudhuri novel.”