By Suvasree Karanjai

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Title: The Butterfly Effect

Author: Rajat Chaudhuri

Publisher : Niyogi Books,2018

 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

(W.B. YEATS, The Second Coming)

                                          The earth is doomed to be a ghost,

                                         She who rocks all death in herself.

(Sophia De Mello Breyner, I Feel the Dead)

We all dream of a utopia, an ideal, the zenith of flawlessness and excellence. With the concept of utopia comes  its inverse, dystopia, which lurks behind curtains with equal power to devastate and destroy. In recent times, dystopias have become an independent literary genre, a potent medium to envision and warn against catastrophes, a result of what could have started as an alternative futuristic ultra modern/utopian state. Rajat Chaudhuri’s “well-oiled” and polished novel, The Butterfly Effect,is a welcome addition to such tellings that aim to reiterate obliquely the oft-quoted saying: “With great power comes great responsibility” and to question whether we are ready to shoulder that liability.

The Butterfly Effect is a brilliant exploration of the local and the global, Calcutta and the world, in a post-apocalyptic state in the face of ultra-modernisation, totalitarianism and technologization.

Rajat Chaudhuri, an esteemed bilingual (Bengali and English) novelist and short story writer with a number of prestigious fellowships under his belt, has been involved with environment and development. His concerns are reflected in his  earlier works (like Hotel Calcutta, Amber Dusk) as well as in his recent novel The Butterfly Effect (2018). 

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Rajat Chaudhuri“This year I won the Charles Wallace Creative Writing Fellowship and was based for three months at the University of Chichester, United Kingdom where I was working on a new book,” says novelist Rajat Chaudhuri in an interview with the Times of India. “In 2013, I won a Korean Arts Council Fellowship and travel support from India Korea Centre (InKo) to work for a month at the Toji Cultural Centre in South Korea. Sangam House International Writers residency offered me a fellowship in 2010.”

Hotel Calcutta-bookcoverSushma Joshi reviews Hotel Calcutta for Kitaab.org

I specifically wanted to read “Hotel Calcutta” because the book flap description seemed to imply this book was a little out of the ordinary. I was tired of great narratives, tour de forces, award winning books, and writers who epitomized their generation. A heritage hotel that is under threat of demolition, a monk at the bar,  a wall of stories, a producer of porn flicks, a woman who hears dead soldiers in the corridor? Okay, bring it on!

The book was a satisfying read, and yet it wasn’t, all at the same time. While I enjoyed the sheer quirkiness of it—plus the flow of words from the writer who was clearly well versed—I should say, greatly at ease—with the writing traditions of great writers of the hoary past. At the same time, a certain something was missing from the book. If I was his editor, I’d say the writer needed to do a second and a third edit. Yes, perhaps that’s what was missing—a certain soul-analyzing content edit.

To get back to the book: the Hotel Calcutta is under threat of demolition. A monk shows up at a bar and advises Peter Dutta, manager-cum-bartender, a way to fend off the demons. “Keep telling stories,” he says. “Build a wall of stories around Hotel Calcutta and no one will touch it.”

Rajat ChaudhuriRajat Chaudhuri is the author of two works of fiction — Hotel Calcutta and Amber Dusk. A past Fellow of the Sangam House International Writers Residency, Chaudhuri’s fiction has appeared in Eclectica, Underground Voices, Notes from the Underground, The Statesman, L’Allure des Mots and other snakepits of the international literary underground. He is also a critic and has reviewed fiction for Sahitya Akademi’s (India’s National academy of Letters) Indian Literature journal, The Asian Review of Books, Outlook, The Telegraph and elsewhere. One of his short stories was the winning entry of the Wordweavers Fiction Contest, 2011. Before turning to writing full-time, Chaudhuri has been a consumer rights activist, an economic and political affairs officer with a Japanese Mission and a climate change advocate at the United Nations, New York.

Chaudhuri is currently (2013) writer-in-residence at the Toji Cultural Foundation (South Korea) from where he answered our questions.

Can stories save a hotel? How did the idea of Hotel Calcutta come to you?

For the purpose of mathematics we can assume a weightless elephant sliding down a frictionless hill. Mathematics and literature are twins. No they are brothers separated at birth, Bollywood style.

Reviel Netz has an excellent book discussing the parallels between mathematics and literature. It is called Ludic Proof: Greek Mathematics and the Alexandrian Aesthetic.

The setting came to me while guzzling expensive beer at the Fairlawn hotel in Calcutta which is housed in a two hundred year old building at the heart of the city’s entertainment district. Two other Calcutta hotels – the Astor and the Great Eastern have also influenced the setting.