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Crisscrossing Desires

Nilofer Kaul

By Rajorshi Chakraborti
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2006, pp. 212, Rs. 250.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 9 September 2006

Through literature, if not through life, one has learned that the most banal of events often lead you to profoundly distur- bing discoveries. Thus it is that Rajorshi Chakraborti’s debut novel begins. The protagonist is called away from work by his daughter’s school. The six year old has raised a storm by lifting her skirt and inviting two boys to stand against her. The father tries to gently find out what led to this. Finally the truth is revealed and he discovers his daughter has accidentally witnessed his wife’s liaison. Hurt and angry, he runs away with the daughter and gets his father, who is a sort of goon one associates with political henchmen in Bengal, to have his wife evicted.   This is where the book really scores. Niladri Dasgupta looks long and hard at himself. And what he sees is not flattering. He has shown little conscience and some criminal record. He has raked in money in fraudulent ventures that have collapsed, and he has bought land and houses for himself, leaving other investors in a mess. When his marriage breaks down, his wife calmly shows him what he has never seen as his weakness : his cowardice, his desire to run away from all unpleasantness and his selfishness. The self knowledge redeems him, as he also acquits the dignified, clearheaded wife.   We next see him in London. He does not set out to give a feel of the place, but remains in a slightly claustrophobic world constituted by one Gujarati and one Pole. Unfortunately his whole recounting of his unlikely friendships with these two as well as his affair with a Japanese woman remain pervaded by stereotypes. The world is no longer the rough grey world in India, but a locker room universe of male sexual exploits, banter and masturbation. We don’t ever know what he does here, except that he boards with a Gujarati skinflint. This part of the novel could have been written anywhere – as it is more about being lonely, an outsider, and not specifically with being an outsider in England.   The most memorable part here is his encounter with his cousin Debu, the son of his father’s brother, with whom there had been a long family feud. Debu is the brooding genius. Above it all, an aspiring novelist, the narrator’s hero. He could have dwindled into a cliché, except ...

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