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Finding the Right Word

Nalini Jain

By Ananda Mukerji
Harper Collins Publishers, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 264, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 2 February 2007

‘Life doesn't have a plot. We don't know what is going to happen next year, so I let the story develop like that. I like to write it that way, as the unknown unfolds’" It is thus that Ananda Mukerji commented on the unfolding of his first novel And Where, My Friend, Lay You Hiding? And, indeed, there is an unforced, dream-like quality about the book. A river runs through the book and carries with it the dreams of the people who live along its banks; just as the river Ganga runs through the lives of many Indians. Among them are people who can chronicle the history of their times, like the old Havildar of Mirpur, the book’s mythical village; boatmen who earn their livelihood by ferrying people across it, priests and temple goers who worship on its holy shores – these make up the persistent mental landscape of the book, that which is constant and continuing but also ever-changing, like the flow of the river, moving incessantly.   There are two main characters--Anjan, the scion of a declining feudal Thakur family from Mirpur and the middle-class English-speaking narrator from Allahabad. They become friends by a chance meeting on a train. Their lives intertwine in their passion for writing. Writing, different kinds of it and the varying kinds of commitment it requires, is the subject of the book. Mukerji once described his own process of writing as follows: "I didn't write for some months and was very lonely without my characters. … A euphoria sets in at the end of three-four hours of writing and then I don't write till the next morning." He also listed as an important pleasure of writing “the last tremendous pleasure of pondering over and finding the right word." Writing a novel about writing calls, indeed, for the ultimate self-reflexivity for which we look in the writing itself. For some of us this is the main quest – by it the novel lives or falls. But the book also has a complex story-line that takes the reader along.   The narrator brushes with Marxism in his time in Calcutta. He accuses Anjan of being a reactionary, “with pretty writing which mesmerized the mind with cleverly crafted phrases and kept them from developing social consciousness. I called his writing useless; useless and dishonest”. He ‘progresses’ to become an advertising executive in Bombay, complete with a house on Malabar hill, a ...

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