I’m not quite sure how to begin about Upamanyu Chatterjee since I’m a one-book fan. However there was something so authentic about that one book that I wanted to write about it’s author. The book was – English August,
published in 1988. It had to be born out of personal experience – just the way most wonderful books are born (Yeah well Harry Potter is one of the exceptions).
I read some of his other works too like The Last Burden, The Mammaries of the Welfare State but didn’t enjoy them much. I found them rather cumbersome and much too long.
Chatterjee lived his novel
Born in Bihar he studied at St Xaviers and then at the prestigious St Stephens. He joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1983. That marked, not just the start of his administrative career but also his literary one. It was at his postings that he picked his characters and crafted his first book, English August, published in 1988.
… tells the story of a young boy Agastya Sen, August, Ogu or simply English, to his friends and relatives. He spends his early days in Delhi and Calcutta and then, like the author, becomes a Civil Servant following in his father’s footsteps. His first posting takes him to the tiny provincial town of Madna. Rural India is eons away from its urban counterpart and Agastya is completely culturally alienated.
Then follows a cynical yet witty account of Agastya’s life as he fights frogs in his bathroom and mosquitoes in his bedroom. There is absolutely nothing heroic about this protagonist. He hardly tries to fix the system as any self-respecting hero would. He chooses to go with the flow. Losing himself in a marijuana induced lethargy, lying on his bed he spends his days faking illness and staring at the ceiling. A more aimless confused protagonist you won’t find.
It is Chatterjee’s characters that hold you. Along with Agastya there is the pompous boss, his wife – who heads the cultural activities of the town, the America-influenced young man who roams around with a ‘walkman’ (where did they vanish?).. delightfully familiar, aren’t they?
… the book is special because I stumbled upon it some six years after its publication when I had just moved to Mumbai. Although there were absolutely no similarities between the protagonist and me or between the tiny town of Madna and mad mad Mumbai yet the newness of the place, the heat, the feeling of disconnect and of utter loneliness were all so real that the book will always remind of my early days there.
Sreeja you got it yet again and on a slim clue this time!
It’s another Indian author tomorrow, one who is responsible for the cutting down of many many trees..and that’s kind of a cryptic clue. Yeah well.. I’m just trying to spice things up a bit as we near the end. Come now do give it a shot. How many Indian authors are there beginning with the letter ‘V’?
This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014, for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.