Leave a comment

Book review: Shillong Times – A Story of Friendship and Fear by Nilanjan P. Choudhury

Reviewed by Ananya S. Guha

Shillong Times

Title: Shillong Times: A Story of Friendship and Fear
Author: Nilanjan P. Choudhury
Publisher: Speaking Tiger (2018)
Pages: 237

Nilanjan Choudhury’s novel Shillong Times, as the subtitle suggests, is a ‘story of friendship and fear’. Friendship’s association with ‘fear’, then, seems to be a thematic focus.

Set against the backdrop of Shillong in the volatile times of the 1980s, the novel is an addition to what is now turning out to be a fairly long list of fiction, including short stories which revolve around this town. Anjum Hasan’s Lunatic in My Head, Siddartha Deb’s The Point of Return and Janice Pariat’s Boats on Land come readily to mind.

Choudhury, however, builds a more conscious landscape than the others to take us to the world of his fourteen year old protagonist Debojit Dutta, who in Blakeian terms leaves his ‘innocence’ behind to ‘experience’ his new found world, thanks to his friendship with two other teenagers, Clint Eastwood Lyngdoh and the empathetic Audrey Pariat. It is the former who introduces Debojit Dutta, when they meet in mathematics tuition classes, to the world of Pink Floyd and the out-of-bounds restaurant Kalsang.

I mentioned the volatile times of the eighties that forms the backdrop of the novel. Choudhury poignantly interfuses community relations (tribal and non tribal, the Bengali superiority syndrome, the Sylheti speaking Bengalis and the Calcutta Bengalis, etc.) with personal ones. Yet these personal friendships are among teenagers, which their adult counterparts or forebears seem to look askance at. Debojit’s mother reprimands him for this, so does his school teacher (lampooned effectively) Mr. Chakravarty. Clint’s father refuses to help in getting the trading licence of Debojit’s father renewed, although he saves him in a potentially violent squabble.

As ethnic tensions rise in the town of Shillong, resulting also in conflict of relations between Debojit and Clint (thanks also to the meddlesome Mr. Chakravarty), Debojit’s parents contemplate shifting to Calcutta and remove him to a school in Calcutta despite his protestations. Debojit also suffers taunts from his locality members for befriending a tribal, a Khasi. All this while, the petite Audrey plays a quiet mediating role, playing across the broken friendship of Debojit and Clint and building bridges.

Continue reading

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Book Review: Hills of Slow Time by Ananya S. Guha

By Namrata Pathak

Hills of Slow Time

 

Title: Hills of Slow Time
Author: Ananya S. Guha
Publisher: Dhauli Books, Bhubaneswar, 2017
ISBN: 9788193546703
Price: ₹ 250

 

“The hills I have known, paraded with / my destiny, the hills that moulded clay into my mythic doll. Yes these were the hills I knew. Molten clay, shrapnel hirsute legs the hills were/ not man made” (“Hills of Slow Time”).

What strikes you first when you take up Ananya S. Guha’s latest collection of poetry is the incongruity of time – time is a snail-paced, animating, pulsating organism that crawls backwards and eats its own trails. As the title tells you, all the poems are steeped in the “hills of eternity”, a place that does not boast of the usual synchronicity of time – it seems the poet has hijacked time and stolen it away. Time is a keep. Here are Guha’s “hills of slow time”, mostly the pine-shrouded, icy, and pinkish Shillong, a city that dances bare foot on the poet’s dreams, lifts his spirits, rigorously kneads his thoughts – a place that is born again and again in Guha’s verse with a new skin, a new throbbing propensity. The poet contends, “There must be a story in these”, but the hills also reflect a grim vehemence, especially at times when they “lie comatose/in disappointment”, in total abandonment. Guha is more than aware of the Janus-faced hills; this is a facet that is dualistic – he has pinned the hills down as both utopic and dystopic; partly the charm of the poet lies there.

There is “a story” in the hills that Guha excavates, digs deep, to unbare for you. Mark that the “bluish strokes of the sun’s haze” matches with the agility of a “quiet bird” plummeting to pluck at “an oceanic vastness” – mind the movements of escalation, the act of zeroing in to the ground, giving in to the gravitational pulls, also defying it, flying high in the sky – mind the game of physics here. As evident in most of Guha’s poems (that are published elsewhere), Shillong, for him, is nostalgia. It is that viscous desire that drips from the pine spikes in wintery nights, those one, two, three droplets of incandescent light. Shillong’s sky is an empty vessel. You fill it up with whatever colour you choose. Sometimes it is leaden; at times it is tangerine; also a dash of florescent green of the hills that it mirrors; and it can also be the colour of the onlooker poet’s eyes – dreamy, probing, and deep. Guha’s representation, the imbrications here, transports us to a realm that is an admixture of contrary traits or opposites – we have the meeting point between the living and the non-living, the biotic and the abiotic, the mass and the matter, the universal and the specific, not to mention the subjective and the objective.

Continue reading