Haruki MurakamiA tall man, Mukherjee, 57, talks in a slow, deliberate baritone. “I took to Japanese when I was in my 30s, I was already a lecturer at the engineering department here. I had an aptitude for languages, and soon I won a scholarship to visit Japan in 1997. A year later, I was offered the chance to teach at Kanazawa University in Ishikawa Prefecture,” says Mukherjee. During his year-long tenure there, he fell in love with Japanese culture. “They pursue aesthetics as a discipline. I find that fascinating,” says Mukherjee, who has been approved by Murakami to translate the novel.

Neel

Walking into the prize ceremony for the Man Booker Prize in the knowledge that you could win one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the world should be the crowning moment in the career of any novelist writing in English.

But ask Neel Mukherjee whether he’s looking forward to his book, The Lives of Others, battling with works from the feted American author Joshua Ferris or the venerable past winner Howard Jacobson on Tuesday, and the response is close to total bafflement.

“What kind of question is that anyway?” he counters. “Of course I’m not. It’s going to be completely stressful.”

Neel Mukherjee has delivered on the promise of his first novel. His second, The Lives of Others, currently long listed for the Booker Prize, is a tour de force, says Oindrila Mukherjee. 

the-lives-of-othersThe novel opens in a village in Bengal in May 1966 with the impoverished Nitai Das walking back to his hut from the landlord’s house where he begged all morning for a cup of rice. Unable to procure food or work and mired in debt, Nitai is driven to kill his wife and children before committing suicide. We then switch to the following year at 22/6 Basanta Bose Road, a four-storied house in Calcutta, where the Ghosh family resides.

The Ghoshes exhibit many characteristic features of affluent Bengali joint families in the sixties. Prafullanath, the ageing patriarch who built the family business, Charu Paper & Sons (Pvt. Ltd.) lives in the house with his three sons, Adinath, Priyo, and Bholanath, their respective families, the widow and children of his youngest son, and a retinue of servants including the old and trusted Madan. All the brothers are involved in the family business. The widow, Purba, and her children, are treated with contempt by most of the others and live in squalid conditions in their dark and dingy room downstairs. But the rest of them, for the most part, enjoy considerable material comfort and of course a reputation for being an established, “bonedi” family.