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How do you fight this monster?

Amit Chaudhuri, 10 July 2003

... 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 ...

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 find a ritual of life that refuses to compete with the unschooled world outside ...

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 settled for long; but they looked too composed to be fugitives ...

Other Eden

Amit Chaudhuri, 15 September 1988

Tigers, Durbars and Kings: Fanny Eden’s Indian Journals 1837-1838 
edited by Janet Dunbar.
Murray, 202 pp., £13.95, April 1988, 0 7195 4440 8
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... is something that most colonial writers have experienced, and some, such as V.S. Naipaul and Nirad Chaudhuri, have written about vividly. The experience of the transformation of literature into reality can be as magical and mysterious as the transformation of reality into literature. At the same time, there is a scepticism, a sardonic down-to-earthness, that ...

On holiday

Amit Chaudhuri, 21 July 1994

The Harafish 
by Naguib Mahfouz, translated by Catherine Cobham.
Doubleday, 406 pp., £15.99, June 1994, 0 385 40362 3
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... 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 ...

Parsi Magic

Amit Chaudhuri, 4 April 1991

Such a Long Journey 
by Rohinton Mistry.
Faber, 339 pp., £13.99, March 1991, 0 571 16147 2
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... 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 ...

A Bottle of Ink, a Pen and a Blotter

Amit Chaudhuri: R.K. Narayan, 9 August 2001

... over the Sarayu Bridge.’ Of course, the academy took its own revenge on these writers. Nirad Chaudhuri remarks how, in the early decades of the 20th century, the Bengali paper at Calcutta University quoted passages from Tagore and instructed examinees to render them into ‘chaste Bengali’. Narayan has been largely neglected in post-colonial English ...

Diary

Amit Chaudhuri: On Hindu Revivalism, 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 ...

Such a Fragile People

Amit Chaudhuri, 18 September 1997

Desert Places 
by Robyn Davidson.
Penguin, 280 pp., £7.99, June 1997, 9780140157628
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... 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 ...

Don’t laugh

Amit Chaudhuri: Hari Kunzru, 8 August 2002

The Impressionist 
by Hari Kunzru.
Hamish Hamilton, 435 pp., £12.99, April 2002, 0 241 14169 9
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... 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 ...

Champion of Hide and Seek

Amit Chaudhuri: Raj Kamal Jha, 16 December 2004

If You Are Afraid of Heights 
by Raj Kamal Jha.
Picador, 304 pp., £7.99, July 2004, 0 330 49327 2
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... 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 down, I don’t believe it takes any special talent for a person to lift himself off the ground and hover in the air ...

Diary

Amit Chaudhuri: Modi’s Hinduism, 17 December 2015

... of inclusiveness towards the Muslim vote-bank. But after Narendra Modi and his terrifying henchman Amit Shah’s divisive campaign, it perhaps wasn’t really surprising that all of us (none of us loyal to any particular political party) found ourselves celebrating the result along with countless others. In the event, the BJP and its allies won only 58 seats ...

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 ...

Unlike Kafka

Amit Chaudhuri, 8 June 1995

The Unconsoled 
by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Faber, 535 pp., £15.99, May 1995, 9780571173877
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... 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 ...

Why Calcutta?

Amit Chaudhuri, 4 January 1996

The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Verso, 98 pp., £7.95, October 1995, 9781859840542
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... 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 ...

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