Archive for July, 2019

Letter from a Reader

Chrestomather | July 17, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments (1)

Dear Sir,
A decade and a half back, my elder brother (a voracious reader) gave me (an occasional reader, at best) The Hungry Tide and told me in an offhand way, “ney, pore dekhte parish“. He had an impish smile on his face and a glint in his eye. I started reading the book somewhat reluctantly. At that time, I barely knew anything about you. By the time I finished The Hungry Tide, I was spellbound, captivated. I made a couple of decisions. First, I would read whatever you wrote. Second, I would not read everything at once. Your writing is like the finest of wines – to be taken in small sips with every sip meant to be savoured.

With the exception of The Great Derangement, I have now read all your books.I finished reading Gun Island a couple of days back. All I have to say you is: Thank You. This comes from the very depths of my heart. Your books have opened my eyes to a myriad of things – language, history, folklore, trade, nuclear armaments – and, good heavens – even horticulture! And it is not just books. Of others, I recall an article you wrote in The Outlook about Spice Trade. That was such an eye-opener!

Gun Island, to me, was not just a story about Bonduki Sadagar’s journey. Throughout this book, I could hear echoes of the books you have written so far. The sense of a voyage from Circle of Reason, the references to Misr and Jews from Imam and Antique Land, two Bengals from Shadow Lines, Sunderbans from Hungry Tide, the ‘magical mystery tour’ from Calcutta Chromosome, migration and shipping from the Ibis books, climate from Derangement – they are all there. To me, Gun Island is also about your own journey – as the thinly disguised Deen – through your own creations back in time.

I had been wanting to write to you to thank you for a very long time, but nervousness held me back. Gun Island felt like a culmination of all that you have written. That is why I felt that now is the most appropriate time to write to you.

The only book of which I could not find a reference was, incidentally, my favourite book – Glass Palace. Maybe it is there, lurking somewhere where I cannot see it yet!And the only regret I had after reading Gun Island was that – and I hope I misunderstood – I felt a shift in your writing, an ever so mild but nonetheless, a perceptible movement to an ism of your comfort, just a few millimeters away from that solidly neutral perspective of yore.

In both Calcutta Chromosome and Gun Island, I felt that your blending of fact and imagination was outstanding. Indeed, who knows what where the circumstances that led to a tale like Manasa Mangal. I am so glad that you have been mining the folklore of Bengal for some of your books. Bengal’s folklore is interesting as it is curious. I recall that many years back, I happened to read a book named Bangalar Puranari, a compilation of (now) lost epics by Dinesh Chandra Sen. The beauty of the old verses and the mystery behind the incidents described in them left me in a trance for many days. Reading about Bon Bibi and Bonduki Sadagar in your books took me back to those days of wonder. As an aside, I hope Bon Bibi remains Bon Bibi, I heard reports that Bibi is morphing into Debi faster than we can imagine.

A curious question to you – as somebody who is a genre-defying author – would you fancy yourself as a ghost story writer too? I find it astonishing that while talking about your fiction, nobody talks of this dimension of yours. I say this because each of the three ghost stories that you wrote – whether it is the elephant episode in Glass Palace, or the Phulboni train incident, or the translation of Kshudita Pashan – were terrific. I would like to specially mention the Phulboni train incident. That was an extraordinary piece of writing. It is only an author of supreme ability who can make every single hair on the body of a fully grown adult like me stand on its end. Probably the only other ghost story which nearly gave me as cold a chill as yours was Sharadindu Bandopadhyay’s Oshoriri. I sincerely hope that in the coming books, we can get one more peek of you as a ghost-story writer.

And coming back to magic and mystery, indeed it seems unlikely that the coincidences and connections what you described in Gun IslandCalcutta Chromosome or Glass Palace can happen in real life. However, strange things do happen. The way certain words kept recurring in Deen’s life reminded me of an incident in my life. At the risk of sounding like a bore, let me share it. A few years back, I had started reading the Ibis Trilogy. The very next day that I started that book, my manager in my office informed me that I needed to switch to a new project code named – Ibis. A day or two from thence, a mail was circulated in our office that owing to construction works, our parking lot would be unavailable. We were asked to keep our cars in the basement parking of a hotel across the street, named – Ibis. A few days later, I took my family for our maiden phoren trip to Singapore. At the Jurong bird park, of all the birds, my wife and I were most captivated by a beautiful white bird with a slender black neck and beak. As I leaned over to read the name of the bird in the board, I got a mild jolt when I saw that it was nothing but Ibis! This incident is absolutely true and I have not made up anything at all. The string of coincidences of utterly unrelated objects named Ibis was beyond my explanation. After all, Ibis is not such a common word that one comes across everyday.  

Let me also take this opportunity to let you know another point which I simply loved in Gun Island. Just two little phrases – “Buzla” and “Shomoshya Nai“. I could hear them being spoken in my head, with the correct intonation, and I could even get a feel of what kind of social background the speaker had. There are many Bengalis who have and will read Gun Island. But I wonder how many will realise how beautifully you hit home with these two little phrases.

I had meant to write just a Thank You note to you. Unfortunately, I could not hold myself back in writing such a big mail to you. I know you are a voracious reader as well, and so, I apologise for taking your time. I look forward eagerly to many many more fascinating books from you in the coming days. 

Respectfully,
Satyajit Dutta

Bangalore

El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace más que el mar


Sugata Ray’s ‘Climate Change and the Art of Devotion’

Chrestomather | July 13, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

Over the last couple of decades a deepening awareness of human dependence on climatic stability has created a surge of interest among historians in earlier eras of climatic disruption. Much of this interest has been focused on the so-called Little Ice Age that peaked in the 17th and early 18th centuries.

This fascinating, and rapidly growing, body of work has tended, however, to be centered on certain specific themes and regions. Thematically the focus is usually on political issues, broadly speaking, rather than literature, culture and the arts. Geographically the focus is usually on Europe and North America, rather than, say, Asia or Africa.

This is why Sugata Ray’s Climate Change and the Art of Devotion: Geoaesthetics in the Land of Krishna 1550-1850 is doubly welcome: because it is focused on the art and architecture of the city of Mathura, in ‘the enchanted world of Braj, the primary pilgrimage center in north India for worshippers of Krishna, (where) each stone, river and tree is considered sacred.’

Climate Change and the Art of Devotion is a wonderfully imaginative addition to the growing body of literature on the Little Ice Age. Sugata Ray traces the influence of climatic variations on South Asian art, architecture and devotional practices with extraordinary interpretive skill. This book is a must read for everyone with an interest in human responses to climate variability.



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