Calcutta is the port from where Amitav Ghosh’s latest novel embarks on its journey but plays out on the high seas on route to China, which is the setting of the greater part of it, as it plunges into the First Opium War. The one question about Flood of Fire that Ghosh has been inundated with, repeatedly, from subsequent interviewers is whether the reader will see the same characters reappear or will they be replaced by others. Ghosh has indicated that the characters take on their own minds, emerging as a prominent player in one book maybe, while subsiding into a minor one in another, allowing for others to dominate in the next.
“One of the main characters in this book is Deeti’s brother, Kesri Singh, a havildar who has been mentioned a few times in the earlier books,” he reveals. And like the unfair question asked of a parent to name his or her favorite child, he has been badgered into naming his most loved character from all his creations which forms the crew of the Ibis. Most loved or not, it’s Neel Halder, who stands out. Recently, he called him his “Apu” in reply to a question by historian Sharmistha Gooptu. Like Satyajit Ray’s protagonist in the Apu trilogy based on Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyay’s story, Neel doesn’t just run through all three stories but holds forth.
The Hindustan Times has published a list of the greatest Indian novels ever written. The paper says, “It might feel incomplete (only books written in English or translations of works in Hindi and other regional languages figure here). It might seem biased (they’re personal picks from the best literary minds of our time). It might even appear as though we’ve missed your personal favourite (lists tend to do that). But for anyone looking to jump into the rich world of Indian writing, it’s a beautiful and imperative start. ”
We are answerable for having let our religious identities drive us to killing each other. Khushwant Singh has shown us some of our handiwork in Delhi, says Amitabh Bagchi in The Outlook
Khushwant Singh’s monumental work, Delhi: A novel, is, in the sense of the passage above, a novel about ghosts: of those who lie buried in beautiful stone mausoleums, of those who were thrown into unmarked graves, of those who were burnt on the ghats of the Yamuna and of those who became carrion for the city’s vultures. It is a novel about all the blood that has been shed in the triangular region of the North Indian plain demarcated by the ridge in the West and the South and the river in the East. It is a lament for an endless sequence of murders of brother by brother and for betrayals of lovers and fathers. It is a celebration of the seasons and the trees and the flowers, and of the life led in this city by the river through the generations. It is an old man’s admonition to the young, a free spirit’s “up yours” to blinkered puritans, and a writer’s querulous and occasionally exuberant attempt to speak truth not just to the powers of the time when the book was written, but to power across time.
The Lives of Others is an impassioned, dystopic, despairing book: its darkness is relieved by only two glimmers of light.
One is the story of a boy called Sona, Supratik’s cousin, who turns out to be a mathematical genius, ‘the next Ramanujan’. His abilities are such that Stanford University whisks him away from India at the age of 15; he eventually goes on to win the Fields Medal for his work in number theory.
The boy-genius serves as a resolution of the great paradox of middle-class Bengali life: that despite the dysfunction, deprivation and repression, Calcutta does, against all the odds, somehow produce people of unusual talent and ability (such as Neel himself). But in Neel’s portrayal these people owe their achievements solely to their own gifts: Sona’s relatives have nothing to do with his mathematical abilities; he is a freak, a singularity, a flash in the pan.
Padma Shri awardee author Amitav Ghosh said that he will not vote for Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Speaking to a new channel, the author said that for him Modi was someone culpable for the Gujarat riots of 2002.
The acclaimed author said that it was horrifying for him to see the way Hindu nationalism was being merged with politics.
Although Indian writers in English like Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth and Salman Rushdie are read widely in Germany, there is great possibility of translating regional languages into German, says a visiting publisher.
First the bad news. Amitav Ghosh’s last instalment of the Ibis trilogy and Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Girl will not be written in 2014.
But there is plenty that will be. After all those years, English August, er, Upamanyu Chatterjee will come up with Fairy Tales at Fifty. Allen Sealy too will be writing the intriguing The Small Wild Goose Pagoda after about a decade and Shashi Tharoor will get back to fiction with Border Crossing. The Lives of Others by Neel Chatterjee, on a Bengali family in decay, No Country by Kalyan Ray, a piece of historical fiction voyaging from New York to Ireland to Bengal to Canada, the much-awaited Idris by Anita Nair and The Gypsy Goddess by Meena Kandaswamy are some of the interesting Indian fiction that will come out soon.
There have been many moments in India’s history when it felt as if the country was coming undone. “It was deeply deranging, but you must also remember that India of the 1980s was an explosive place. It really felt like it was coming undone,” novelist Amitav Ghosh had said to mark the 25th year of the publication of his novel, The Shadow Lines. Dr. Nazia Hasan pays a tribute to Ghosh and his seminal work of fiction in this special essay.
This day break, pockmarked- this morning, night bitten Surely, this is not the morning we’d longed for, In whose eager quest, all comrades Had set out, hoping that somewhere In the wilderness of the sky Would emerge the ultimate destination of stars, …somewhere will anchor the boat of heart’s grief.
(Faiz Ahmad Faiz, The morning of Freedom: August 1947)
Partition of India has been one of those turning points in the history of the subcontinent, the repercussions of which have not ended yet. It lives in memories, in monuments, in songs and stories, besides popping up now and then in various symbols, occasions and rituals. It makes the Katha and Daastaan for the coming generations for centuries perhaps, because it has everything aplenty: the joys and the sorrows (more sorrows than joys, of course for the common man) associated with it can weave sagas of its own. Amitav Ghosh in most of his novels like The Circle of Reason (1986), The Shadow Lines (1988) and The Hungry Tide (2004) takes up the theme of the Partition in its differing aspects. He looks at it from the middle class quarters in The Shadow Lines, the anonymous sufferers’ side in The Circle of Reason and the low-caste section in The Hungry Tide. Perhaps, John Berger had the same idea when he wrote; “Never again a story will be told as though it is the only one…” (Ways of Seeing: 1990).
“Vanity Bagh” by Anees Salim and “Foreign” by Sonora Jha are representative of works of many new writers who do not mind taking the risks involved in portraying Indian rural reality in English, writes K. Satchidanandan in the Frontline.
It has been some time since the subcontinental English fiction came of age and began to grapple with Indian history and reality with a confidence and an artistry one seldom comes across in its early practitioners. This new confidence that one first found in writers such as Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and Amitav Ghosh marks many of the new writers who do not mind taking the risks involved in portraying Indian rural reality in English: the risk of exoticisation, of the work looking like an inadequate translation, of the difficulty in expressing in English the nuances of rustic life and speech. And, looking at the result, one can well say it has not been a vain adventure: we now have a corpus of such fiction that can legitimately claim to be as much Indian as fiction written in the languages whose losses in texture are compensated to a great extent by the intimate insight into the lives and minds of the men and women who people their ably painted landscapes.