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About Obsessions

G.J.V. Prasad

By Upamanyu Chatterjee
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2006, pp. 416, Rs. 495.00


As our ever-growing population, and the increasing number of cases of molestations and rapes, and the shocking number of HIV positive people, and our record in trafficking and child prostitution, and our venerable Khushwant Singh testify, sex is always present in the mind and motivates many of the actions of the average Indian male of any age. Yet, sex is taboo in this land of the Kamasutra, the moral police is everywhere and is made up of the very men who will do anything for a piece of the ‘evil’ and ‘sick’ action, made so as a result of their public prudery and posturing. So millions and millions of Indians indulge in acts that they consider corrupt and degrading, living out snatches of sexual fantasies on the suspecting and unsuspecting. Upamanyu Chatterjee has always asked uncomfortable questions and here is the one he asks time and again – how do we live with ourselves in this country?   Weight Loss is about obsession and the main character, whose obsessions it maps, is called Bhola, the innocent. Bhola is ruled by his sexual urge, for men as well as women (and if circumstances had permitted he might have tried other outlets as well, like the cattle he is told village boys lose their virginity to), and constructs his entire life around his obsession for Titli, a vegetable vendor, her husband Moti, and assorted other characters like his landlady, Mrs. Manchanda. Pursuing Titli and her husband (he actually succeeds with the husband first) almost all his life, which he ends by slitting his wrists at the age of 37, Bhola follows the path of “sexual and spiritual degradation” that the subtitle of the novel promises.   The novel begins with school where Bhola’s obsession with his Physical Education teacher, Anthony, is the stuff of sado-masochist fantasy. While others have graduated to obsessing with their women teachers, Bhola and his friend, Dosto (named after the unspellable Russian author but obviously a short cut to name a friend of the protagonist—‘Dosto to aisa’), lust for men mainly, with Dosto in love with his driver and Bhola doing everything to get punished by Anthony, to touch him as roughly as the teacher deals with him. Soon, Bhola graduates to lusting after women teachers as well. But he is equally attracted and repelled by many others. Almost all his memorable encounters are sexual—with his cook, or the ...

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