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Bankura’s Englishman

Amit Chaudhuri, 23 September 1993

Alien Homage: Edward Thompson and Rabindranath Tagore 
by E.P. Thompson.
Oxford, 175 pp., £8.95, June 1993, 0 19 563011 4
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... 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 ...

The Great Game

Amit Chaudhuri: A short story, 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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 to muffle his irritation with his usual show of joviality ...

Not Entirely Like Me

Amit Chaudhuri: Midnight at Marble Arch, 4 October 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist 
by Mohsin Hamid.
Hamish Hamilton, 184 pp., £14.99, March 2007, 978 0 241 14365 0
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... 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 celebration of the London Review of Books’s tenth anniversary ...

The View from Malabar Hill

Amit Chaudhuri: My Bombay, 3 August 2006

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found 
by Suketu Mehta.
Review, 512 pp., £8.99, September 2005, 0 7472 5969 0
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... 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 ...

A Short Interval at the Railway Station

Amit Chaudhuri, 2 January 1997

Event, Metaphor, Memory: Chauri Chaura 1922-92 
by Shahid Amin.
California, 270 pp., £32, October 1995, 0 520 08779 8
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... 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 ...

In the Waiting-Room of History

Amit Chaudhuri: ‘First in Europe, then elsewhere’, 24 June 2004

Provincialising Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference 
by Dipesh Chakrabarty.
Princeton, 320 pp., £42.95, October 2000, 0 691 04908 4
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... is ‘dawdling’, and adda a waste of time which, at least according to one writer, Nirad C. Chaudhuri, ‘virtually killed family life’. Neither flânerie nor adda is a purely physical or mental activity; both are reconfigurings of urban space. The flâneur, as Benjamin saw him, walked about the Parisian arcades of the 19th century, but as Hannah ...

Diary

Amit Chaudhuri: In Calcutta, 19 May 2011

... Mr Chatterjee said in English, to which, impeccably, Mr Chakrabarty replied: ‘Ah, Mr Chaudhuri has more than fulfilled his responsibilities to society.’ I was struck that it was possible to have such an exchange only hours before what people had predicted would be a violent election. For about 20 years, I’d heard one English word ...

Light, Colour and Real Estate

Amit Chaudhuri: Vikram Chandra’s short stories of Bombay, 21 May 1998

Love and Longing in Bombay 
by Vikram Chandra.
Faber, 257 pp., £6.99, March 1998, 0 571 19208 4
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... 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 ...

A New World

Amit Chaudhuri: Selections from a work in progress, 30 September 1999

... 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. ‘Here,’ he said to the taxi driver that day in April – it was a Tuesday – when he arrived. His son was staring out of the window, as if the taxi were a most natural place to be in, apparently unaffected by its rusting window-edges and its noise ...

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 ...

Four Days before the Saturday Night Social

Amit Chaudhuri, 6 October 1994

... 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 ...

Qatrina and the Books

Amit Chaudhuri: What is Pakistani Writing?, 27 August 2009

The Wasted Vigil 
by Nadeem Aslam.
Faber, 436 pp., £7.99, June 2009, 978 0 571 23880 4
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... 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 abandoned by post-Cold War politics) has been veering between being a frail democracy and becoming a basket case ...

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