Friday, January 06, 2006

Patna Wrong Route

Patna Roughcut
Siddharth Chowdhury
Picador India
Pages: 187; Price: Rs 250
What you are going to read below is not a review. Just some thoughts while I survived the book.
The production: The total word count of the book is less than 30,000 but it has been stretched out such a way that it comes to 187 pages. The advantage? You can price it at Rs 250.
The publisher: It looks like Picador India was founded to promote Bihari writers or/and books on Bihar. So the “Also available’ list in the end entertains you about the books they have published so far. Pankaj Mishra has published three. Raj Kamal Jha, two. Tabish Khair, one. And, now, one on Patna. Thrash the guy who said Lalu Land is getting neglected.
The writer: A Bengali, Chowdhury was born in Patna, presumably in a Bengali neighbourhood, and that’s the problem. He finds everything about Patna and Biharis funny, tongue firmly in cheek of course. Now he lives in New Delhi and works in publishing, but can’t resist chuckling even today when he thinks of his place of birth.
The book: The blurb educates us that this is “an elegy to the intimate neighbourhood and a poem of protest.” Far from it. Why? Sample this line: “Patna, though more sinned against than sinning, is simply a place with no literary traditions and whatever few writers, poets, novelists that have emerged are not because of it but in spite of it.” Where’s Lalu’s stick?
Then, again, the blurb tells us: “It is a story of love, idealism and sexual awakening.” Ahem. There is only platonic love, absolutely no idealism and about sex, savour this: “Rudrada’s younger sister, who once upon a time Chokon claimed he had seen sucking Rudrada’s cock…” It sucks. Even the Bad Sex in Fiction Award guys won’t touch this with a bargepole.
The style (or the lack of it): What to say about a book which starts with this line “Dreams are like cut-glass carafes”? The writing is absolutely gimmicky, though it follows a staccato style, a la The God of Small Things. In Arundhati Roy’s case it worked. Chowdhury fails — miserably. The whole book reeks of Bengali “superiority” and Bihari “inferiority” and this is unfair, even if it is true.
It is not worth talking about the story, as there is no story. It is, at its best, a collection of short stories, and the only connecting thread is that some characters reappear. The writer can get away by titling the book ‘Roughcut’ but that’s no excuse for producing a shoddy work. To be fair, in some places the writer comes up with promising lines, but they do not contribute to making the book even a passable one. So you cannot call this as Chowdhury’s “first novel”; it is his “first attempt to write a novel.” The only advantage is that you won’t take much time to read it.
— Sunil K Poolani