Sunday, 25 October 2009

CRACKING THE SECRET LIVES




CRACKING THE SECRET LIVES


Nine characters spread across five locations in India, and actions revolve around them in a time span of 24 hours. Keeping that as the basic “structuring principle”, poet-novelist Sampurna Chattarji combined her experiences and imaginations for her debut novel Rupture which was published recently.

“I think the story chose me. Or rather, the characters did,” Chattarji says. “A lot of what propelled Rupture was my ongoing concern with the way people construct secret selves, and how those secret selves are subject to the pressures of reality, under which they crumble, change or long to change and cannot. I was asking myself was not so much, 'What happened next' as 'Why is this person the way he/she is?'.”

According to Chattarji, “everything is material” for the fiction, “the real, the imagined, the remembered”. And while the author “never experienced” certain psychological upheavals as in the case of the character Biswajit’s trauma over a suicide in the family, or Tennyson’s trauma of perhaps having killed a person at a very young and gullible age, or Partho’s trauma of being unable to love his family, Chattarji could “vividly imagine them all” for her fiction. In the fiction, the foreigner remains “marginal and almost shadowy, even though he exerts a huge influence on the trajectory of Nazrul's life as well as on that of his parents Aslam and Mehjubin”. A
ccording to Chattarji, it is “irrelevant what the origin of the foreigner's character might have been”. Rather, it is important to “suggest through the foreigner what the enormous tug of the 'foreign land' could be in the imagination of someone like Aslam who has never travelled outside Bengal”.

Almost all the characters in the novel are Bengalees and some of them stay outside Bengal. Is it an attempt to show the lives of Bengalees beyond Bengal and a sense of loss among them? “I don’t think I had any such intention. But it is a fact that I myself have been a probashi Bangali (non-resident Bengalee) for the better part of my adult life. As you would know, being one yourself, Bengalees can be found in any part of India, and they are amazingly adaptable, while often remaining amazingly linked to their origins,” Chattarji tells me.

For the author, it was “fairly easy” to weave the story without losing the threads at any point of time. “I had the outline of the characters and the end in my mind. Also, I had the idea of a possible nuclear showdown as the backdrop for their personal anxieties and unease. The linear time helped me to stay on course over this terrain, within the units or segments of that time. I could move backwards and forward into emotional, dream and subjective times, and into the nature of memory and so on,” Chattarji maintains.

Several of Chattarji's stories have 'violence' as a theme. I ask her about the reason behind. “I find it impossible to stay immune to the levels of violence around us, at so many levels, on personal and global levels. It is an inescapable theme,” says the novelist who is “currently in the process of editing and fine-tuning” her second novel The Land of the Well that is due next year.

One of the interesting characters in the novel is a foreigner who visits Baruipur, a location south of Kolkata. There this fictional foreigner tries to adapt to the local lifestyle --- smokes bidi, puts on local dress, speaks in Bangla and then decides to take a local boy Nazrul to Germany and provide him all the opportunities so that the boy flourishes there. I felt there was some similarity between this foreigner and real-life experiences of Nobel prize-winning German writer Gunter Grass. “I have never encountered Grass except through his work,” informs Chattarji, adding the fictional character was not modelled on Grass. “But the idea for the character of the foreigner, was triggered off by my knowledge of Gunter Grass’ visit to Kolkata many years ago,” the author says. “It made me wonder what kind of impact his presence might have had on the people who looked after him --- humble, hardworking people like the gardener, the cook, the maid”. 


In the fiction, the foreigner remains “marginal and almost shadowy, even though he exerts a huge influence on the trajectory of Nazrul's life as well as on that of his parents Aslam and Mehjubin”. According to Chattarji, it is “irrelevant what the origin of the foreigner's character might have been”. Rather, it is important to “suggest through the foreigner what the enormous tug of the 'foreign land' could be in the imagination of someone like Aslam who has never travelled outside Bengal”.


Almost all the characters in the novel are Bengalees and some of them stay outside Bengal. Is it an attempt to show the lives of Bengalees beyond Bengal and a sense of loss among them? “I don’t think I had any such intention. But it is a fact that I myself have been a probashi Bangali (non-resident Bengalee) for the better part of my adult life. As you would know, being one yourself, Bengalees can be found in any part of India, and they are amazingly adaptable, while often remaining amazingly linked to their origins,” Chattarji tells me.

For the author, it was “fairly easy” to weave the story without losing the threads at any point of time. “I had the outline of the characters and the end in my mind. Also, I had the idea of a possible nuclear showdown as the backdrop for their personal anxieties and unease. The linear time helped me to stay on course over this terrain, within the units or segments of that time. I could move backwards and forward into emotional, dream and subjective times, and into the nature of memory and so on,” Chattarji maintains.

Several of Chattarji's stories have 'violence' as a theme. I ask her about the reason behind. “I find it impossible to stay immune to the levels of violence around us, at so many levels, on personal and global levels. It is an inescapable theme,” says the novelist who is “currently in the process of editing and fine-tuning” her second novel The Land of the Well that is due next year.


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QUIZ

Gunter Grass and Kolkata

1. Gunter Grass described his stay in Kolkata and adjoining areas during August of 1987 to January of 1988. A diary of that visit along his drawings by Grass was later published. Name that diary.

2. During his stay in Kolkata in 1987-1988, Grass co-directed the Bengali version of one of his plays. Name the play.

3. In his book The Flounder, Grass wrote: How it swarms, stinks, lives and gets bigger and bigger...Delete Calcutta from all guide books... When was the book published?

4. Name the Bengalee protagonist in Grass' novel Call of The Toad.

5. In his book Zunge zeigen, whom does Grass describe as: A rider, all in bronze on a horse too small for him, his head too large under his military cap...

Answers:
1. Zunge zeigen (Show Your Tongue). The book was published in 1988.
2. The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising. The play was translated by professor Amitava Roy.
3. The English version was published in 1978. The original German edition Der Butt was published in 1977. The book was a result of Grass' first visit to Calcutta in 1975.
4. Subhash Chandra Chatterjee.
5. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Grass is actually describing a statue of Netaji in north Kolkata.