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Subculture Without Dipper Lights

Sumana Roy

Amitava Kumar
Picador, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 328, Rs. 495.00


Home Products, Amitava Kumar’s first novel, is a story of two stories, the story that the words on a page tell us and the other, often more interesting one, the story about the story; that is the way it reaches its readers, the traces of its scaffolding visible, made visible on purpose by the writer who almost in a late modernist gesture, takes us to that great workshop, the writer’s mind, his table and on it, an open exhibition of his wares. That is the sense with which the book begins and ends, an image similar to one of Picasso’s famous series of drawings on the theme of the artist and his model, painting brush in one hand, the other hand on a model’s exposed thigh and the canvas inside the canvas suggesting the in-betweenness of the story.   Home Products tells no real story; it lives on the blurred zone between life and art, between Kumar’s story and Binod’s. Binod, a journalist by profession, is asked by a filmmaker to convert his editorial into a story, ‘a story about the life in small towns and a woman’s lonely ambition’. In real life, though Kumar never talks about this anywhere, this is the story of Madhumita Shukla, a small time poetess from the state of Uttar Pradesh who was murdered, allegedly, by the man, a minister in the state government, whose child she was carrying when she died. It is significant that Kumar retains the initials of Madhumita Shukla’s name, the M.S. changing to Mala Srivastava in his Manu-Script. So, this then becomes the story of Mala Srivastava; and of Binod’s aunt, Bua, once a poetess, and now minister in the government, who like Madhumita and Mala, has made the ‘terrifying trip to the heart of power’. There are others in the story too, who like Mala Srivastava, live lives outside the margins of the story, the Hindi film actor Manoj Bajpai who is Neeraj Dubey in the novel; a white girl called Alice, writing a book on Bollywood, is perhaps Jessica Heines; Vikas Dhar, a filmmaker who ‘remakes’ Hollywood films, bears resemblance to the Hindi film director Mahesh Bhatt. These two intertwined narratives negotiate through imitation (‘Why don’t you rewrite a story you have liked in the past?’ Binod’s friend asks him, and Binod considers the option by ...

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