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‘Chasing the Monsoon’ is an engaging, humorously written travelogue by Journalist Alexander Frater.

It documents the experiences the writer faced during his travel across India, following the monsoon right from its origin in South India to the North, and thereafter chasing it through the East and finally culminating in Cherrapunji.

The book is rich in descriptions; the writer comes across as passionate and knowledgeable in the passages where he describes the bursts and associated phenomena.  It is also an exposition of how bureaucracy works in India, and around twenty odd pages or so of the 270 page book highlights the inaccessibility of the North East (a region in which I grew up) for foreigners. If you have a dream, chase it…that’s what strikes us in this never-say-die spirit of the writer when permission to visit Cherrapunji was consistently being denied to him.

The book is highly recommended.

Rating: 4.2 out of 5  

Magnificent. There’s no other word for it. It’s a well-researched book and thoroughly enjoying.

Spanning a period of about sixty years, it’s a tale about three generations of a family and similar in some respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Human emotions make the novel engaging. Love, betrayal, treachery, racism, friendship & sacrifice pervade the unfolding of events. Romance mingles with vivid description of a war as the principal characters move from Rangoon and Mandalay in Burma to Malaya, and from Ratnagiri, Calcutta and Madras in India to the United States.

It’s a story about an Indian man, RajKumar Raha who lands up in Burma in a state of penury owing to a shipwreck. From his humble beginning as a sailor boy, he rises to become an extremely affluent influential timber trader in Burma. This 550 page fictional work with Burmese history woven into the narrative chronciles his family’s experiences, their ups and downs, the hatred that exist in Burma for Indo-Burmese family (Rajkumar marries a Burmese lady Dolly ) providing us in between with a wealth of information about Burma, the timber trade, killer diseases like antharax which attack and kill elephants etcetera without becoming dry and boring.

Reading through the novel one is convinced about the tremendous research the writer must have done for this work while dealing with a subject that won’t come naturally to any writer. A Bengali who grew up in various places, Amitav Ghosh writes about Burmese life with an authority and a flair that a good Burmese writer would have been proud of. His description is awesome and he’s as precise about military life as he is when he is handling erotic sequences or the make of a foreign car. Amitav’s prose is captivating. Below are just two beautiful extracts from the book.

“Everything he owned was in that place, all that he ever worked for; a lifetime’s accumulation of labour stored as a single cache of wood. He thought of the elephants and the bombs falling around them; the flames leaping from a well-stacked wood; the explosions, the trumpeting.

It was he who has concentrated all his holdings in this one place — that too was part of the plan — and now the bombs have claimed it all. But it didn’t matter; nothing mattered so long as Neel was unharmed. The rest were just things, possessions. But Neel ….. ” The second extract. “They came across a lady one day, dressed in a beautiful silk sari, a peacock-green Kanjeevaram. She looked to be from a wealthy family but she too had run out of food. She was trying to bargain with a group of people who were sitting by a fire. Suddenly she began to undress and when she’d stripped off her sari they saw she had others on underneath, beautiful, rich silks, worth hundreds of rupees. She offered up one of these, hoping to exchange it for a handful of food. But no one had any use for it; they asked instead for kindling and wood.They saw her arguing vainly with them — and then perhaps recognising finally the worthlessness of her treasured possession, she rolled he sari into a ball and put in on the fire; the silk burnt with a crackling sound, sending out leaping flames.

Flashback techniques has been used in several places. Scenes from Burmese rebellion are a recurring motif. These images are terribly disturbing and continues to haunt and those who’ve seen John Boorman’s hard-hitting film BEYOND RANGOON on the atrocities by Burmese military Govt. on its citizens will be convinced that this resourceful land, called the Golden Land, rich in precious stones, rubber among other items is/was truly in the grip of anarchy for a long time.

In the last pages, havoc caused by a Japanese invasion in Burma and its effect on the Army officers and the people have been penned quite forcefully. It’s undoubtedly one of the best books I have read in recent times.

 

The spread of English in South Asia started with the beginning
of colonisation by the British. English is the only language which
has successfully binded educated Indians. Even in earlier days, great
writers like Rabindranath Tagore ( Gitanjali )and Bankim Chandra
Chattopadhyay ( Rajmohan’s wife ) have felt the necessity for an
Indian English literature to reach out to a greater number of readers.

Since then the journey has been a long one filled with several accolades
and brickbats along the way. R. K. Narayan who is widely acclaimed for
his many novels has been likened by the British press to Charles Dickens,
a rare honour for any writer. Nirad Choudhuri, V. S. Naipaul, Mulk Raj
Anand and Raja Rao and others who followed, or were contemporaries of
Narayan, have put Indian English literature on a high pedestal. Nirad
Choudhuri have been decorated with Order of the British Empire ( OBE ),
a very rare honour for any writer. And V. S. Naipaul has also bagged
several prestigious International prizes including the Nobel Prize.
Nirad Choudhuri’s  The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, Naipaul’s  A
House for Mr. Biswas
and Mulk Raj Anand’s Coolie are highly acclaimed
works.

Spurred on by these success, more notable names emerged on the Indian
English literary firmament. Salman Rushdie is one such vaunted name
and his novel Midnight’s children  is considered by many to be the
best novel to be written in English literature in the last twenty-five
years. Almost concurrently a glut of remarkable writers like Vikram Seth, Amitav
Ghosh, Anita Desai, Khushwant Singh, Rohinton Mistry, Upamanyu Chaterjee,
Vikram Chandra, Gita Hariharan and others appeared on the scene. They came,
they saw and they conquered. One good novel followed another from most
of these authors. And they have picked up awards as well, right, left
and centre. For example, Amitav Ghosh has bagged both the prestigious
Commonwealth award and Arthur C. Clarke award for creative writing.

Nowadays more publishers are keen on printing the works of these authors
as millions of copies sell by their very names. Readers are lapping up the
works of these writers, and it’s a healthy trend.

Of late, the realistic mode of the first three decades of post-independence
writing is giving way to a non-representational, experimental, self-conscious
and optimistic literature. The real challenge the writers of today face is the
enforced homogenisation and standardisation of culture due to globalisation
and the new, easy and superficial internationalism which tempts Indian English
writers to make themselves saleable in the western market.

Starting from Independence era, celebrated Indian English poets like Sarojini
Naidu, Sri Aurobindo and later on Nissim Ezekiel, Dom Moreas, P. Nandy,
A. K. Ramanujan, J. Mahapatra and others possessed tremendous craftsmenship.
They have explored varied themes through their poetry.

And with the recent International success of Arundhuti Roy ( Booker prize for The God of Small Things ) and Jhumpa Lahiri ( her Interpreter of Maladies won the Pulitzer prize ) the world at large has suddenly woken up and taken
notice of the talent of Indian writers. And more talented writers like Kiran
Desai and Sagarika Ghosh and many others are joining the bandwagon and they
hold a lot of promise.

In conclusion, the future of Indian English writing is really good. To brush
aside the recent accolades bestowed upon the works of these award-winning writers
as a flash in the pan would be an extremely cynical view. In my view, the future
of Indian English writers appears to be rosy.

21/05/2001



  • None
  • Subhajit Ghosh: Have been reading that he had 'left' leanings in some articles recently..
  • mystic wanderer: Well put. It's difficult to imagine the sacrifices of our freedom fighters. But can Netaji Subhash Ch. Bose be called a leftist? Nationalist perhaps
  • Subhajit Ghosh: Your wish has been granted, and look how! Even NDA possibly didn't dream of this huge victory. Let's hope they deliver, and take the nation forward.

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