Tag-Archive for ◊ India.With ◊

Author:
• Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Amitav Ghosh was born in 1956 into a middle-class Bengali Hindu family in Calcutta, India, to a lieutenant colonel father and a housewife mother. He grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He received a B.A. degree in 1976 and an M.A. degree in 1978 from the University of Delhi followed by a Ph.D. in social anthropology from the University of Oxford in 1982. As well as working as a newspaper reporter and editor, Ghosh also taught at the University of Delhi, the American University in Cairo, Columbia University in New York City and Queens College in New York.

Amitav Ghosh is a novelist, an essayist and a non-fiction writer. He has received prestigious awards including the Prix Médicis étranger, The Padma Shri, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Frankfurt International e-Book Award and he has been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and for the Man Asian Literary Prize. The Shadow Lines, Ghosh’s second novel, published in 1988, won the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ananda Puraskar.

Ghosh is now a full-time writer. He lives between the USA and India with his wife Deborah Baker,
who is a biographer, an essayist and a senior editor at Little Brown and Company, a publishing house in the USA. The couple have two children.

The Shadow Lines is set against a historical background that moves back and forth from the second world war in England to the nineteen-sixties in India, leading to the eighties and interwoven with the fictitious lives of the characters. The author tackles a specific theme: the power of memory, the art of remembering almost everything and how one can travel, virtually, to various places through one’s memories. The writer brings together, through the main nameless character, various periods of time and series of events experienced by generations of the family and friends in Calcutta, Dhaka and London.

Events start decades before the narrator’s birth and end on the eve of his return from London to Delhi. After becoming a mature young man and after studying in London for one year, he comes to terms with the fact that there is no longer hope of having his beautiful cousin, Ila, share his love now that she is married to Nick and madly in love with him despite their misfitted marriage. Before leaving London the narrator also finds out from May, Tridib’s lover and Mrs Price’s daughter, the truth about the mysterious death of his elder cousin and mentor, Tridib, while visiting Dhaka during the Bangladeshi revolt.

Tridib is a great story-teller, through his tales of London and various other topics like “Mesopotamian stelae, East European jazz, the habits of arboreal apes, the plays of Garcia Lorca, there seem to be no end to things he could talk about”, make everything real for his younger cousin. Both cousins are gifted with vivid memories, an acute sense of perception of the past as well as a strong desire to learn new things to feed their imagination. Additionally, the narrator’s grandmother, through her many stories about Dhaka, where she was born before settling in Calcutta, has “no home but in her memory” and she makes the narrator feel as if he was there with her.

The narrator realises, while sitting on the edge of a camp bed in the cellar back in Raibajar with his beloved cousin, Ila, surrounded by objects that carry a lot of memories, like ghosts of time, that “they were not ghosts at all: the ghostliness was merely the absence of time and distance – for that is all that a ghost is, a presence displaced in time”.

The Shadow Lines is a compassionate, powerfully moving novel in many ways. Ghosh masterfully expresses his thoughts in his eloquent writing. His characters are well depicted in an interesting, vast array of individuality. The narrator is a passionately imaginative recorder of the events and lives of people around him. The young Tridib is an idle, avid, multifarious intellectual. Ila is portrayed as a spoiled, beautiful young bohemian seeking complete freedom in her new world and although born an upper-class Indian, feels devoid of identity. Tha’mma’s husband dies when she is thirty two years old and in order to survive, she works for twenty seven years as a schoolmistress in Calcutta. She is hard working and authoritarian unlike her only sister, Mayadebi, who is richly married and referred to ironically as “Queen Victoria” by her elder sister. There is also the very old friends of Tridib’s family, Mrs Price, and her two children, May and Nick.

The violence in Dhaka and Calcutta described subtly by Ghosh and shown as incomprehensible and aberrant brutality, as in the violent death of the innocent Tridib, sadly still exists today in many other places of the world, e.g. in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya, Israel, Yemen and Bahrain. In his novel, Ghosh describes shadow lines that create a seemingly unbridgeable gap producing bloodshed. These lines leave their shadows wherever they happen to be. They are irrationally man-made in order to divide people and separate countries artificially. While wars, religions, partitions and violence alienate people and nations, at least the power of memory combined with imagination keeps them united.

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Author:
• Sunday, February 01st, 2009

Kunal Basu was born in Calcutta, India in 1956 to middle class communist parents, a publisher father, Sunil Kumar, and an author and actress mother, Chabi Basu. He studied in South Point High School in Calcutta and graduated in 1978 in Mechanical Engineering from Jadavpur University in India.

With his doctorate in hand, he taught at McGill University in Montreal in Canada from 1986 to 1999 and since 1999 he has been a professor of marketing and management studies at Oxford University in England. He was married in 1982 , has a daughter, and still lives in England.

Kunal Basu’s three acclaimed novels are: The Opium Clerk published in 2001, The Miniaturist published in 2003, and Racist published in 2006.

His most recent book, The Japanese Wife published in 2008, is a collection of short stories.

Kunal Basu, through his historical, enthralling fiction and minutely described tale, The Miniaturist, carries his readers into the exotic world of 16th century India at the time of the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great, who reigned from 1460 to 1535, and the prodigy painter Bihzad.

It’s a sumptuous tale, similar to the One Thousand and One Nights, full of harems, eunuchs, slaves, servants, luxurious palaces, kings, courtiers, love, jealousies and intrigues.

In The Miniaturist, like My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, the reader is transported to the same era, its artistic ground and its culture, which was no doubt one of the most advanced world wide for centuries, since it yielded the most sumptuous miniature paintings in the history of art.

The main figure in this vividly portrayed tale is Bihzad the Persian, the most gifted and talented artist of his time. The story follows Bihzad from his childhood to an advanced age. The Khwaja, Bihzad’s father, brought him up as a recluse. Deprived from any education or social life which could have a corrupting influence on his art, he had to remain pure. Unfortunately, Bihzad like all geniuses is tormented; he questions himself about the true value of art and of artists. He rebels by refusing to follow in his father’s footsteps and becomes a courtier and to be like other artists a copier, his renunciation of life is most moving. Bihzad believed that a true artist must set his creative spirit free.

He wanders aimlessly on a journey of self repudiation and in the midst of his suffering the voice of his wife Zohra, the daughter of the Hazari ruler, resonates in his ears: “Your gift is your curse. Your defect. It’ll make you suffer. Even if you wanted to escape, it wouldn’t spare you. It’ll cripple you, even if you flee, it will seek its revenge”.

He inflicts on himself blindness by tying his eyes firmly in order not to relapse and paint again before he could achieve the fundamental vision that he seeks. He leads a life of a beggar, suffering and enduring in order to purge himself in the hope of reaching the Nirvana and to be at peace with the world and within himself.

The liberation comes at the end when he meets the emperor Akbar on his deathbed. Now the penniless beggar, Bihzad the wanderer, seems to have reached his destination, at last. Akbar has forgiven him and called him not an artist but a saint, because “only a saint is truly blind, seeing none but the God inside him”. Now he can unfold his eyes and draw again for posterity his beloved Akbar dying, to fulfil his emperor’s request and “turn into an artist for the last time.”

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