Amit Chaudhuri

Amit Chaudhuri’s latest novel is Odysseus Abroad.

Diary: Modi’s Hinduism

Amit Chaudhuri, 17 December 2015

In November​ I had to cancel the teaching I was doing in Norwich to return to Calcutta to visit my mother, who is elderly and ailing. On the 8th, I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that this was the morning on which the results of the Bihar assembly elections were being declared. Maybe I took for granted that the BJP – which had made it clear that these elections were to be...

Diary: In Calcutta

Amit Chaudhuri, 19 May 2011

I arrived in Dubai after midnight on 22 April, nervous about missing my connecting flight. Passing through security for the second time in nine hours, rehearsing the whole belt-discarding, shoe-and-wallet-jettisoning routine with a bunch of Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Europeans, I plunged into the capitalist wakefulness that is Dubai airport. I was on my way to Calcutta from London....

What is Pakistani writing? Whatever it might be, it seems to have taken up newsprint lately. Things have been changing quickly and irrevocably over the last seven or eight years: a great symbol of American capitalism was destroyed by two aeroplanes; this was followed, some years later, by a crash in the market no less resounding and sudden; in South Asia, Pakistan (marginalised and nearly...

In 1989, I was invited to a party in London. I was a graduate student at Oxford, supposedly writing a dissertation on D.H. Lawrence but actually doing nothing of the sort. Instead, I’d completed a short novel; an extract from it had appeared in this paper, as had a poem and a review. It was on the basis of these that I must have been invited that night to the party, which was a...

The View from Malabar Hill: My Bombay

Amit Chaudhuri, 3 August 2006

Like Suketu Mehta, I was born in Calcutta, a city ‘in extremis’, in Mehta’s words, and, like him, grew up in Bombay. His father, who worked in the diamond trade, and mine, then a rising corporate executive, probably moved to Bombay from Calcutta for the same reasons; to do with the flight, in the 1960s, of capital and industry from the former colonial capital in the east to the forward-looking metropolis in the west, in the face of growing labour unrest and radical politics in leftist Bengal – the troubled context that ‘in extremis’ presumably refers to.

Two Giant Brothers: Tagore’s Modernism

Amit Chaudhuri, 20 April 2006

Edward Said’s Orientalism, published in 1978, gave intellectuals and writers from once colonised nations (themselves often migrants, like Said) a language that liberated and shackled in almost equal measure. Said’s critical perspective gave both Europeans and non-Europeans a shrewder and more unillusioned sense of the subterranean ways in which power operated through the cultures...

Champion of Hide and Seek: Raj Kamal Jha

Amit Chaudhuri, 16 December 2004

This book begins to narrate its story, or stories, with the picture on the jacket; the story has begun, then, even before we’ve reached the first page. After a dedication to the author’s parents, we encounter a quotation from Paul Auster’s Mr Vertigo, which expresses, deadpan, the following view on flying, or weightlessness, or ‘hovering in the air’: ‘Deep...

“For modernity has already had its authentic incarnation in Europe: how then can it happen again, elsewhere? The non-West – the waiting-room – is therefore doomed either never to be quite modern, to be, in Naipaul’s phrase, ‘half-made’; or to possess only a semblance of modernity. This is a view of history and modernity that has, according to Chakrabarty, at once liberated, defined and shackled us in its discriminatory universalism; it is a view powerfully theological in its determinism, except that the angels, the blessed and the excluded are real people . . .”

How do you fight this monster?

Three years into the new century, you pick up a handful of stones from the street. You secrete boxcutters and wires. A penknife lies warm in your hand.

You wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, go out of the house and explode.

The generals have an inexhaustible arsenal of names: ‘imperialist villains . . . criminals . . . cowards . . . idiots . . .’

...

Don’t laugh: Hari Kunzru

Amit Chaudhuri, 8 August 2002

The story begins one afternoon, ‘three years after the beginning of the new century’ (the 20th). A figure on a horse appears on mountainous terrain. This is Ronald Forrester, dust ‘clogging the pores on his pink perspiring English face’. Hari Kunzru, Forrester’s creator, didn’t have to look too far for his character’s name: Forrester works with trees....

Story: ‘The Old Masters’

Amit Chaudhuri, 18 October 2001

He glanced at his watch and made an attempt to finish the tea in his cup; he was waiting for a call, and it was his second cup of tea. Five minutes later, the phone began to ring.

‘Pramathesh?’ said the voice at the other end; and he could tell, from its slight note of insouciance and boredom, that it was Ranjit.

‘I was waiting for your call, old man,’ he said, trying...

In the obituaries of R.K. Narayan (1906-2001), written by the ‘talkative men’ of modern India who once knew the writer slightly or quite well, there were one or two remarks about his habit of walking around without any apparent purpose. Here, for instance, is the novelist and journalist Khushwant Singh on a visit to Mysore forty years ago: ‘Being with Narayan on his...

Story: ‘An Infatuation’

Amit Chaudhuri, 24 May 2001

an episode from the ‘Ramayana’ retold by Amit Chaudhuri

She’d been watching the two men for a while, and the pale, rather docile wife with vermilion in her hair, who sometimes went inside the small house and came out again. She’d been watching from behind a bush, so they hadn’t seen her; they had the air of being not quite travellers, nor people who’d been...

Story: ‘The Great Game’: a short story

Amit Chaudhuri, 24 August 2000

It was inhuman to play cricket at this time of the year, in this heat, but that was precisely what they were doing these days. Moreover, the team was being sent out into that cauldron to pick up something called the Pepsi Cup. You had to feel for them, though they looked like young braves. While others might shop at the airport in Dubai, one would expect them not to glance at the watches and shapely state-of-the-art CD-players, to have nothing but a glass of orange juice at the hotel before going into the nets.

In 1857, eight years before Kipling was born, Indian soldiers in the north of the country rebelled against the representatives of the East India Company. The uprising was known as the Sepoy Mutiny and, later, somewhat romantically, as the First War of Independence. Although its impact on the Indian and Anglo-Indian middle classes was probably not as immediate and direct as it has been made out to be in subsequent colonial and nationalist narratives, it brought to an end a period of cultural exchange between different races. The late 18th and the first half of the 19th century had seen the commercial and colonial expansion of the East India Company in Bengal and other parts of India, thanks to a series of military victories and not a few dishonourable transactions, but it was also a time of commingling, especially in Calcutta, between the new, post-feudal Indian middle class and members of the British scholarly and administrative classes. William Jones, whose researches at the Fort William College in Calcutta were largely responsible for inaugurating Orientalist scholarship and the reconstruction of Indian history, wore native clothes made of muslin in the heat – the solar hat and khaki uniform that Beerbohm has Kipling wear in one of his caricatures were not yet de rigueur. There are early portraits depicting Englishmen with their Indian wives, dressed in a mish-mash of Persian and Hindu styles. In the first half of the 19th century, the Fort William College, later the Hindu College, saw teacher and student, Englishman, Indian and Eurasian, engage in a colloquy at a crucial moment of modern history – people like the educationalist David Hare, the Anglo-Portuguese poet and teacher Henry Derozio, the great Bengali poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt. If Kipling had been born fifty years earlier, it would have been impossible for him to write the cheerfully assonantal but bleak lines: ‘O East is East, and West is West/And never the twain shall meet!’ It would have been equally difficult for the narrator of the story ‘Beyond the Pale’ to make his seemingly unequivocal statement: ‘A man should, whatever happens, keep to his own caste, race and breed.’’‘

He had come back in April, the aftermath of the lawsuit and court proceedings in two countries still fresh, the voices echoing behind him. But he felt robust.

Although Bombay and Mumbai are the same city in reality, they are probably two different cities of the mind, or at any rate the names signify two phases in its history. Bombay was a colonial city; even when I was growing up in it through the early Sixties and the Seventies, its colonial planning and allocations were largely intact. Cumballa and Malabar Hill, Kemp’s Corner, Breach Candy all on one side, and, on the other, the curve of the Marine Drive as it led towards Church-gate, Nariman Point, Cuffed Parade and the Gateway of India: within these loosely-defined parameters were situated schools such as Cathedral and John Connon as well as Campion, colleges like Elphinstone and St Xavier’s, the important office buildings that belonged both to the Government and to private companies, the Bombay Gymkhana club, and the Jaslok and Breach Candy Hospitals. This was where not only the ministers’ houses were concentrated, but where the professionally qualified – corporate executives, doctors, orthopaedic and plastic surgeons, solicitors, newspaper editors – mainly lived with their families, with a small service industry of dieticians and beauticians at hand; the kind of people who had inherited from their colonial rulers flats, clubs, roads, specific residential and work areas, along with table manners, a certain intimacy with the English language, and a comparable distance from the less privileged around them. New, tall buildings would come up unexpectedly; their names would become famous – architectural celebrities in a city that loved celebrity and once even had a magazine of that name. With its sea-breeze, its year-long sun, its ambitions of upward mobility, this part of Bombay in the Sixties and Seventies could feel like a Californian city in the Fifties, where the notion of ‘having fun’ still existed within the constricting but benevolent circumscription of middle-class values.’‘

Such a Fragile People

Amit Chaudhuri, 18 September 1997

In 1978, a short while before Robyn Davidson returned to England to write Tracks, her book about ‘traversing the deserts of Australia through tribal Aboriginal land’, she visited India. ‘I don’t know how or why I ended up in the medieval lanes of Pushkar, in Rajasthan, during one of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar. But I’m almost sure I was the only European around.’ (Things would not always be like this: soon, Goldie Hawn and others from Hollywood would arrive in Pushkar, expressing surprise and delight that people in India were so happy.) On the plane back to England, Davidson met, apparently by accident, a man called Narendra, ‘some sort of nobleman and some sort of politician’, who recognised that she was ‘the woman who walked across Australia with some camels’; it was Narendra who urged her to write a book on nomads she had seen in Rajasthan, the Raika or Rabari, who herd ‘camel and sometimes sheep’. The idea gestated for several years until she met Narendra again, at a party in London, ‘six inches shorter than I remembered him’. When he ‘reminded me of my promise to write about the Rabari and invited me to India as if it were the most unexceptional thing in the world, what could I do but agree?’ So she ‘wrote a proposal; suborned editors with that twilight-and-dune picture that had been mouldering in my mental attic; signed contracts’.

A Short Interval at the Railway Station

Amit Chaudhuri, 2 January 1997

Towards the beginning of Event, Metaphor, Memory, Shahid Amin observes: ‘Indian schoolboys know of Chauri Chaura as that alliterative place name which flits through their history books.’ This is true: Chauri Chaura, we were taught, was where, on 4 February 1922, peasant volunteers who had enlisted for Gandhi’s newly launched non-co-operation movement turned violent and burned down a police station with 23 policeman trapped inside it; and Gandhi called a temporary halt to his nationwide movement. It was an early moment of disgrace in a still unfolding nationalist history; and Gandhi had to condemn it quickly in order to prove the moral superiority of the movement he had initiated. Ironically, it was a moment that would have positive repercussions in the long term because, in condemning what had happened as an aberration, Gandhi demonstrated to his opponents and supporters that his movement was essentially political, not militant.

Why Calcutta?

Amit Chaudhuri, 4 January 1996

Among the welter of images and mythologies that constitute the middle-class Bengali’s consciousness – P3 and Ganesh underwear, the Communist hammer and sickle, Lenin’s face, fish and vegetable chops outside the Academy, wedding and funeral invitation cards, the films of Satyajit Ray, the loud horns of speeding state transport buses, Murshidabadi and Tangail sarees, the daily Ananda Bazar Patrika, the songs of Tagore, the destitute outside Grand Hotel, Boroline Antiseptic cream, Madhyamik school examinations (to name just a few of the constituents) – Mother Teresa, too, is present. Not only is she undeniably a part of the contemporary history of Calcutta, but she is, to the ordinary middle-class Bengali, only a segment in a reality that is complex and constantly changing, and is composed impartially of the trivial and the profound. In contrast, to the average middle-class European or American Mother Teresa is Calcutta, or certainly its most life-affirming face. The rest of Calcutta is impossibly ‘other’, romantically destitute and silent; the ‘black hole’, unsayable. It is interesting that the poor whom Mother Teresa attends never speak. They have no social backgrounds or histories, although it is precisely history and social background, and the shifts within them, that create the poor. Instead of speaking, the poor in the photographs look up at her silently, touch her hand, are fed by a spoon. The ‘black hole’ of Calcutta, figuring as it does an open, silent mouth, no longer refers to the historical event that took place in the 18th century in which English men, women and children were trapped by Indian soldiers in a small, suffocating cell in the city. It refers to the unsayable that lay, and still often lies, at the heart of the colonial encounter, the breakdown in the Western observer’s language when he or she attempts to describe a different culture, the mouth open but the words unable to take form. In Western literature, the unsayable is represented by ‘The horror! the horror!’ in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and ‘ou-boom’, the meaningless echo in the Marabar Caves in Forster’s A Passage to India, the complexity of both Africa and India reduced to hushed, disyllabic sounds. In history and the popular imagination, another two syllables, ‘black hole’, have come to express the idea that, for the Westerner, Calcutta is still beyond perception and language.’

Story: ‘The Man from Khurda District’

Amit Chaudhuri, 19 October 1995

Bishu had lived in Calcutta for eight years, but still couldn’t speak proper Bengali. ‘I does my work,’ or ‘I am tell him not to do that,’ he would say. Even so, he courted his wife in precisely this language and then married her. With his child he either spoke in Oriya or his version of Bengali, and the child, now a year and a half old, did not seem to mind.

Unlike Kafka

Amit Chaudhuri, 8 June 1995

The shame of being on the wrong side of history: this is what Kazuo Ishiguro’s first three novels have been about. It is not a condition that has been written about a great deal in English, because the English language, ever since ‘literature’ was created and taught, has been on the winning side; and the once-colonised, who have been writing in English for about the past forty years, have always had the moral rightness of their exploitedness, and the riches of their indigenous cultures, to fall back on. But for the story of the personal implications of national shame or guilt in English, one has to turn to a Japanese writer, Ishiguro, and to his mentors, the Japanese filmmakers; not the flamboyant Kurosawa, but the equally gifted Ozu.

It was after school hours. Almost an hour ago, either Krishna or Jimmy had rung the bell, a continual pealing that seemed to release a spring in the backs of the boys and girls, who jumped out of their chairs and proceeded to throw, without ceremony or compassion, their books into their satchels. It was then useless for a teacher to try to be heard, or to beat the table despairingly with the back of a duster, raising dramatic puffs of chalk-dust, for the boys hard-heartedly assumed deafness; one or two ‘good girls’ who raised their arms even now, a full twenty seconds after the bell, to ask a relevant question, further irritated the teacher, who, her hands powdered with sediments of green and white chalk, wanted to be upstairs in the teachers’ common room, pouring tea from her cup into her saucer and very slowly sipping it. Preparing, like Atlas, to lift a tottering load of brown-paper-covered exercise books full of long, ingenious bluffers’ answers, she, in a moment of mischief and vindictiveness, said to a ‘good girl’: ‘Lata, will you please carry these for me upstairs?’ So impenitently angelic was the girl that she agreed without a murmur of resentment, with an air of perpetual readiness, even.

On holiday

Amit Chaudhuri, 21 July 1994

Naguib Mahfouz made his name with his trilogy of Cairo life – Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street – first published in Arabic in the late Fifties. At first glance, The Harafish, which was originally published in 1977, bears little resemblance to, say, Palace Walk. The latter is a story of a family in an ‘alley’ in Cairo in the first half of the 20th century, and is told in a straightforward chronological manner that seems to owe something to the 19th-century European novel. The Harafish is more rambling, less realistic (without being ‘magical’), telling the mythic story of the descendants of the heroic Ashur-al-Nagi and covering births, weddings, murders and entire generations, sometimes in the course of a chapter. It is set in a time that for the most part appears to be medieval, given its plagues, dervishes and clan chiefs, but occasionally edges towards the modern with the appearance, for example, of a police inspector.’

Bankura’s Englishman

Amit Chaudhuri, 23 September 1993

Two Englishmen spring to mind in connection with Tagore: C.F. Andrews and W.W. Pearson. Andrews, with his further association with Gandhi, looms now and then in Indian history books and national folklore as a ‘friend of India’, and, strange as it may sound, nothing more. The adoration and idealising passion with which Andrews engaged with India make us engage with him as a sincere but rather bland generality, an ideal Englishman, and rarely as a person. We see him walking with Tagore and Gandhi, part disciple and part companion, with little apparent contact with ordinary people, till he becomes, in our minds, one of the great stereotypes of that era, to figure occasionally in fairy tales such as Atten-borough’s Gandhi. E.J., or Edward, Thompson, seldom remembered these days, and always uneasy in his role as ‘friend of India’, was, on the other hand, involved with the country of his long domicile (from 1910-23) in a way that was often uncomfortable but always intimate; he reappears now in a short book written by his son, E.P. Thompson.

Story: ‘Portrait of an Artist’

Amit Chaudhuri, 19 August 1993

The house was in a lane in a middle-middle class area which curved at a right angle at one end, and, at the other, led to the main road. During the Durga Puja, the balconies of the neighbouring houses would be lit with green and blue neon lights, and families would walk towards the end of the lane that curved to the right, and join the crowd that was either coming from or walking towards the goddess. Bank clerks, schoolteachers, small businessmen, with their wives and children, the boys in shorts and the girls in frocks, looking like the pictures of children on the covers of exercise books, formed that tireless crowd. On the other side of the lane, after one had crossed the main road, one came to a lake with spacious adjoining walks where couples strolled in the evening, and children, accompanied by maidservants, came to play. Binoy and I would walk past the lake in the afternoon, when women washed saris or scoured utensils with ash on its steps, and the heat had just ebbed into a cloudy, dream-like vacancy.

Diary: On Hindu Revivalism

Amit Chaudhuri, 10 June 1993

We have read all about Hindu revivalism in newspapers, and seen the pictures on television; one’s personal feelings about it cannot be separated from the information the media give us. When I returned to Calcutta for two months in mid-January, I listened to all the arguments given by people one had always thought of as ‘liberal’, a category as vague as ‘normal’, for and against Hindu fundamentalism. I listened to the various ways, small and big, in which middle-class Hindus had been infuriated by Muslims – the recitation of prayers five times a day on loudspeakers; the Shah Bano case, where a Muslim woman pleaded to be divorced under civil rather than Muslim law (her plea was upheld by the Supreme Court, but overruled by the Rajiv Gandhi government in the face of widespread Muslim protest, and against the advice of ‘secular’ Indians, both Muslims and Hindus); the way in which Muslims supposedly support Pakistan at cricket matches. Hindu fundamentalism was only an extreme reaction to years of ‘pampering’ Muslims, I heard; but then I heard about its disturbing consequences as well: many innocent people were killed, mainly in the slums, during the riots in Bombay, the city where I grew up; militant Marathi Hindus – the Shiv Sena – even invaded the exclusive, inviolate upper-middle-class areas where my parents and I had once lived.’

Here is a little family

Amit Chaudhuri, 9 July 1992

The narrator of After Silence is Max Fischer, the famous cartoonist. At the Los Angeles County Museum, where his work is on display, his life collides with that of Lily Aaron, a divorcee with a son called Lincoln. Lily shows a womanly sophistication and cynical maturity that one presumes must come from her past experiences of ‘things not working out’, and a disarming, sentimental girlishness which surely must have betrayed her into a bad marriage in the first place. She is independent-minded, ‘very feminine and adult’, but eminently rescuable: the divorced mother with a child (one thinks of Superman III) is no longer a figure of despair but of a peculiar virginal charm, pulling at the heartstrings. And Max Fischer is charmed. He is genuinely in love with the idea of ‘family’, and Lily Aaron and Lincoln promise him the opportunity of having one without confronting the nitty-gritty of finding out, through marriage, what marriage is about, and what raising a child means. Here is a little family, already magically complete, and only in need of a man. The charm and potential eeriness of this situation could not have been possible fifty years ago: for then there were too few divorces, and when they occurred, they were, reassuringly, too much of a disruptive force to enter in quite such a deceptively innocent and romantic way into a novel. But After Silence is an utterly absorbing exploration of the disturbing complicity, even interdependence, between innocence and terror in America, between comic-strips, home-movies, Chinese restaurants, ‘being famous’, monster outfits, pizza parlours, Disneyland fantasy, fast-food shops, and private paranoia and public violence.

Parsi Magic

Amit Chaudhuri, 4 April 1991

The Parsis of Bombay are pale, sometimes hunched, but always with long noses. They have a posthumous look which is contradicted by an earthiness that makes them use local expletives from a very early age; and a bad temper which one takes to be the result of the incestuous intermarriages of a small community. The Parsi boys in my class had legendary Persian names like Jehangir and Kaikobad and Khusro. Their surnames, however, can be faintly ridiculous in their eloquence, like ‘Sodabottleopenerwalla’.

Other Eden

Amit Chaudhuri, 15 September 1988

There is something mildly disturbing about the way writers generalise about India. How do they do it, with a country so confusingly diverse in detail? Even the titles of some books – Heat and Dust, for instance – are generalisations. This book, Fanny Eden’s travel journals, wears its title like an uneasy crown: Tigers, Durbars and Kings suggests lazy stereotypes rather than particulars observed by someone alive to their surroundings. The suspicion proves to be ill-founded, however. What the blurb promises – ‘shrewd irony’, ‘perceptiveness,’ ‘immediacy’ – turns out, surprisingly, to be true. It is surprising because few books about India are really interested in India. The temptation to treat the country, with its elephants and tigers and idols, as a kind of enormous Disneyland for the Western mind, or as a vast trampoline for Western leaps into the obscure and the mystical – such temptations prevent many writers from ever really looking at the country. When one does look, as Fanny Eden does, the only honest initial response may be of puzzlement, a puzzlement which, if expressed wittily and intelligently, as it is here, can be more illuminating than certainties and absolute conclusions.’

Story: ‘Sunday’

Amit Chaudhuri, 5 May 1988

On Sundays, the streets of Calcutta were vacant and quiet, and the shops and offices closed, looking mysterious and even a little beautiful with their doors and windows shut, such shabby, reposeful doors and windows, the large signs – DATTA BROS., K. SINGH AND SONS – reflecting the sunlight. The house would reverberate with familiar voices. Sandeep’s uncle, whom he called Chhotomama (which meant ‘Junior Uncle’), was at home. Chhordimoni, Sandeep’s greataunt, and Shonamana, his eldest uncle, had also decided to spend the day here. If you overheard them from a distance – Sandeep’s uncle, his mother, his aunt, Chhordimoni and Shonamama, all managing to speak at the top of their voices without ever making a moment of sense – you would think they were having a violent brawl, or quarrelling vehemently about the inheritance of some tract of land which they were not prepared to share. And, indeed, they were engaged in an endless argument (about what, they did not know) beneath which ran a glowing undercurrent of agreement in which they silently said ‘yes’ to each other.’

Poem: ‘St Cyril Road, Bombay’

Amit Chaudhuri, 25 June 1987

Every city has its minority, with its ironical, tiny village fortressed against the barbarians, the giant ransacks and the pillage of the larger faith. In England, for instance, the ‘Asians’ cling to their ways as they never do in their own land. On the other hand, the Englishman strays from his time-worn English beliefs. Go to an ‘Asian’ street in London, and you will...

From The Blog
11 December 2009

Three judges (including myself) – gathered together in May this year at a posh Edwardian hotel on Bloomsbury Street to argue over a book prize – would emerge at different times to stroll about the area. All of us had glanced at our neighbour, the Socialist Bookshop, but Jane Smiley, the tallest (in every sense) among us, had noticed an air of quiet celebration in its window-displays. The effects of the crash were still reverberating in the Western world (though India had recovered more quickly than expected); and a new complex of emotions seemed to have surfaced in the bourgeois of almost every political persuasion – a mix of panic; rage; a strange, sweet schadenfreude; a nostalgia for erstwhile simplicity; a sudden premonition of the inevitable. In Calcutta, however (where I’ve been spending most of each year since the turn of the century), socialism had never gone away.

Letter

The Spanish Rime

7 August 2003

Concluding that a ‘simple literalism of dating’ won’t do when it comes to deciding when the voyage in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner took place, Barbara Everett suggests moving the date from the 17th century, when Richard Holmes believes the voyage took place, to a period predating, or contemporaneous with, ‘the rounding of Cape Horn in 1519-20 by the ship of the heroic traveller...
Letter

Parsi Magic

4 April 1991

I was surprised to read Mr Vakil’s somewhat rancorous letter (Letters, 9 May), in which my feelings about Parsis are compared to anti-semitism. To make this point, Mr Vakil has picked up, at random and out of context, phrases from my review, strung them together, and put misleading quotation marks around them. I am left breathless at the enormity of his accusations, especially as they seem to...

The meanings​ that the word abroad has accumulated since it was first used to mean ‘widely scattered’ include: ‘out of one’s house’ (Middle English), ‘out of...

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At Ramayan Shah’s Hotel: Calcutta

Deborah Baker, 23 May 2013

In January 1990 I moved from New York to Calcutta to get married. Having never been to India, I came equipped with V.S. Naipaul’s India: A Wounded Civilisation and Geoffrey...

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There’s nothing like a book about music to remind the reader of the silence. Nothing else insists so emphatically on what we are usually happy to forget: that, during the hours we read, our...

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Anti-Humanism: Lawrence Sanitised

Terry Eagleton, 5 February 2004

One of the most tenacious of all academic myths is that literary theorists don’t go in for close reading. Whereas non-theoretical critics are faithful to the words on the page, theorists...

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Handfuls of Dust: Amit Chaudhuri

Richard Cronin, 12 November 1998

The first of the great Indian novelists to write in English, R.K. Narayan, wrote modest novels about modest people living in the small South Indian town of Malgudi. The completeness of the world...

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Doing justice to the mess

Jonathan Coe, 19 August 1993

The triumphs of this novel are at once tiny and enormous. Tiny because, like its predecessor A Strange and Sublime Address, it tells only of a placid and uneventful life, a life of domesticity,...

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City of Dust

Julian Symons, 25 July 1991

What Carlyle called the Condition of England Question – in our day, the country created by Thatcher and her sub-lieutenants – is surely the ripest subject on offer to novelists. The...

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