by Anu Kumar

Admittedly, The Patna Manual of Style is hard to describe, even harder to like. But it is easy to love–travel through its pages and you will see Delhi as it was a decade ago, with its mentions of what the North Campus looked like and perhaps still does, how the winter sunlight slinks gently into an apartment, how you can catch a glimpse of the Qutb Minar from a South Delhi barsati, the traffic around Sarai Kale Khan, the atmosphere around Connaught Circus, and you will automatically fall in step with Hriday Thakur, the aspiring writer from Patna who has loved and not lost, and somehow made a life for himself in Delhi, says Anu Kumar

PatnaThough Siddharth Chowdhury’s The Patna Manual of Style (Aleph Book Company, 2015) includes the word “stories” in its title, it has to be read like a novel, with the stories following one after another. And while these stories are not arranged chronologically, and even the narrative voices vary, it is only when one reads the final story that there is some sense of completion–almost. A novel, after all, should never be complete; its incompleteness must linger with the reader.

Hriday Thakur appears in several of these stories. Read in some order, he has just lost his job, and some time before this he has lost the girl he loved. He even loses his mentor but at the end he does find happiness of a sort, with a job and married to a woman he loves. In Chowdhury’s novel, Day Scholar, which preceded this, Hriday is the wide-eyed and impressionable young university student from Patna, in-part bewildered and blissful–whether it is because of the reckless violence his landlord Zoravar Singh Shokeen is capable of, or due to Hriday’s own obsession with a young girl. But in these stories–though there is a certain writerly detachment about him, given his own ambitions to be a writer–he is more confident, worldly-wise and aware of his own attractiveness to women.

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Siddharth Chowdhury’s first published book was a short story collection titled Diksha at St. Martins (Srishti, 2002). Some characters who first appeared in those stories, like Ritwik Ray and Mira Verma, went on to play starring roles in his next book, the brilliantly unpredictable Patna Roughcut (Picador, 2005).

Chowdhury’s next novel Day Scholar (2010) saw a shift of setting from 1980s Patna to 1990s Delhi, with a new narrator called Hriday Thakur opening up a deeply male world of Bihari hostellers who live on the fringes of Delhi University and in the terrifying shadow of Zorawar Singh Shokeen, political broker and property dealer – and their landlord.