U is for Upamanyu Chatterjee

U is for Upamanyu Chatterjee

Born 1959

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.

English August…

… 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?

To me..

… 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.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge

27 Replies to “U is for Upamanyu Chatterjee”

  1. I always meant to read English August…just havne't had a chance. Thanks for writing about it and its author. I will definitely be reading it soon…just after I finish the 15 more that I have on my side-table 🙂

  2. Another great author and book. i have seen the movie but not read the book. My husband is pulling his hair out at the long list of books i am ordering online 🙂

  3. Thanks, Tulika for the mention. EAaIS was a favourite back at college , so when you said Babudom, it was my obvious choice ; I've to re-read it now 🙂 Thanks for evoking the memories 🙂

    As for V, well, there are Vikram Seth, V S Naipaul, Vikas Swaroop…I believe your clue means, either " Long write-ups" or " many editions ". In that case I narrow it down to Vikram Seth, because 'A Suitable Boy' is one of the longest, single-volume novels in English, if I am right.

    Waiting 🙂

  4. I ordered 4 books last night from your recommendations from Flipkart. I did it too soon I guess, must read English August too.
    Dont know about cutting trees part but V can be for Vikram Seth or V S Naipaul!

  5. I might give that book a chance.. I like stories that brings out the characters well, and this seems to be one of those.. Thanks for sharing Tulika,and I particularly like when you tell why this book is important to you:-) … And yes – where DID those walk-mans go.? 🙂

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