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Amber Dusk
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Amber Dusk

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Amber Dusk

 

Rajat Chaudhuri

 

AMBER DUSK smells of Calcutta streets and resonates with the seductive tunes of Parisian nights. Robot oracles, the enigmatic photographer Valence Jourdain, a shadowy Blue Princess, Indian tribesmen and the mystical Lake Malaren colour this fascinating narrative, creating an edgy reality. The novel presents a rich tapestry of ideas weaving together Calcutta and Paris and the lives and passions of the unforgettable individuals that walk their streets. Here is a delicately crafted story about love, loathing and beatitude and the quest for peace in a time of intolerance.

`Rajat Chaudhuri's Amber Dusk is a multi-levelled exploration of Love and other forms of Death where reality mixes and mingles with hyper­, super­, virtual­ and surrealities to leave the reader breathless. A global cast of identifiable yet strange and sublime characters ­ common saints, santhals, socialites and terrorists, pimps, prostitutes and gays, projectors and dreamers, actors, artists and astrologers, animated robots, talking birds and toys, prophets, revolutionaries, utopians, millenarians all flit across the dreamscapes of the protagonist Rishi's several lives and multiple forays into alternate worlds and times as the reader is taken on a vertiginious roller-coaster ride across cultures and continents. Calcutta is at the heart of this Quest Novel cum Bildungsroman cum psychedelic collage of Myth and Memory as Rishi ­ the central character ­ hunts for life's meaning with his lovers and antagonists that takes him finally to Stockholm's Lake Malaren (equi-significant to our own Manassarovar) and back to Kolkata following epiphanies and illuminations that take us through the Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

The title itself reveals the sensuous apperceptions and the inventive imagination of the author who creates images of Beauty and its evanescence almost on every page of this novel. Amber Dusk resonates with echoes from at least a triple pun ­ dusk falling around `Amber', a famed restaurant in the heart of Kolkata; golden sunsets fading and slipping into dusky twilight; and ``the cow-dust hour'' or ``godhuli lagna'' the most propitious time for marriage and romance when the Radhas and Krishnas of the world must set out on their glorious quests amidst the gathering gloom.

A big, ambitious first novel on the Liebestod theme mapping out multiple existentialist journeys and border-crossings that should create both ripples and waves among its international readership. A memorable novel of East-West encounter.’
Amitava Roy, Shakespeare Professor of English and Drama, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata

`Our is a world where borders are vanishing yet newer ones are being created and strengthened. Everything here seems to be so close yet too far. The distance between cultures, political differences, inequity and personal distances stare us in the face. In the world of technology there is no space for the comprehension of differences. Chaudhuri's novel draws it all together and in that sense besides being true to its time, is a human and sensitive account.’
Marisa Emmer, Geographer and Professor of Geopolitics and Regional and Urban Development, State University of Middle-west (UNICENTRO), Brazil

`With an enthralling style, Chaudhuri tells a fascinating story about human encounters, changing fortunes and the search for purpose...a novel that lingers in your mind'
Linda Essner, Journalist, Stockholm

"...a gigantic cauldron where ... love and bombs, death and perfumes, journalism and surrealism cohabit and together produce a heady mix of experiences. Description is Chaudhuri's strength ..." - The Telegraph

"Surreal explored ...a gifted and prolific writer of fiction" - Deccan Herald

"a novel in which Kolkata and Paris figure luxuriatingly, creating a different verve, a striking sense of pulsation, bedecked by intricate moon-moments of love and intimacy..." - Citation in a paper on Indian Writing in English by Prof Niranjan Mohanty, poet and Head of Dept of English, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan

 

Rajat Chaudhuri has written fiction, book reviews, travel and activist pieces in major Indian dailies like The Statesman, The Telegraph and Times of India. His short story Watersmoke, about the effects of genetically modified marijuana on the intellect, won a prize in the Scian Short Story Competition 2006.

Chaudhuri is founder of the civil-society group, Southern Initiatives. He has been a contributor to the UNDP Human Development Report. In the past he has worked for a consumer rights group, a Japanese Mission and had been an elected NGO representative at the United Nations, New York. He lives and writes in Calcutta.

INDIAN LITERATURE (Sahitya Akademi’s bi-monthly journal, Vol LII. No 3. May-June 2008)May-June 2008)Amber Dusk by Rajat Chaudhuri, Indialog Publications, New Delhi; 2007, Pp.352, Rs.250/-The book under review—Rajat Chaudhuri’s Amber Dusk is a text that retrieves memories and spatio-temporal configurations of Indian writing in English. This aspect makes this reviewer think about a point that has often been debated and widely contested - the politics of Indian writing in English, Several times while browsing through the pages of many Indian English authors, I had raised the issue of differences that are at play within the sensibilities of Indian writing. To be specific, these differences have to be understood in the graphic notations provided to the reader regarding the cosmopolitan and urban divide, the setup of imaginary landscapes that are suited for the writing of the writers, the academic framework of the writers including the idea of production and con­sumption of these texts, and the mechanisms of the market-oriented networks. Here in the postcolonial context, this reviewer would like to tilt the so-called absorption of many literary texts into the Western-oriented ways of consumption by mooting the idea that all that talk about the cosmopolitan experiences may not be well-marketed and the audience including the West, perhaps, will not be so ready to accept the existence of these texts. In the past one decade, several tests that talk about the cosmopolitan experiences failed to catch the attention of the market and the readership of the West. This is another serious issue popping up when we look at the reception of these texts not only abroad but even within our country, One should keep in mind here that these divisions, fundamentally situated on the premise of the readership, have created more cleavages within the Indian writers in English.Though the tune is not ripe enough to debate the above-mentioned features, Rajat Chaudhuri’s novel at the very outset dismantles the notion of a peculiar sense of readership that many Indian English writers would wish to have. First and foremost, this is a text about the cosmopolitan Kolkata experience in conjunction with the rural spaces which are actively restructured and figuratively examined by several characters in the novel, At the same time, the hub and hue of the city life, the,valueless systems attached to the postmodern glimmerings of market and other sophisticated network connections are clearly outlined in the context of the more modern French lives—in other words, by the French Connections. Here the cosmopolitan sensibilities are mutually wedded together to project the notion that several spaces and times are lived by all of us many times, Secondly, Amber Dusk shows that how a character like Rishi can have non-linear imaginations; ah1 of them without any staticity or coherence. Time is only a temporal disjuncture for this character because his cosmopolitan sensibility has already destroyed him within the narrow catacombs of imagination. There is a tendency very much suggested here to go back to the roots of alienation by bidding farewell to the extravagance of enjoyment from the postmodern sensibilities that always destroy truth, essence and character. The text, therefore, is a snow-clad Iamb waiting for its redemption by looking at its own existence. When freedom is not negated, it is natural that one would have a tendency to cross all borders. But Chaudhuri’s characters like Pedro, Anamika,Valence and Suhuria are all much more time-clad characters enjoying the wetness and warmth of the new time and yet chained to their perturbed consciousness. However, for a character like Daniel, the limitations oi freedom are very important as far as his ideas of investigation are concerned. There are all types of people; but none of them except the ones that are prone to action (including an abortion or the announcement of the doctor regarding the death of a baby) the more modern sense of freedom never achieves any significance. In other words, this freedom also is something provided to a serious reader of Chaudhuri’s novel.The wide galaxy of characters in Chaudhuri’s text is coming from different walks of life and the Bengal life is the only background that unites them. There are some questions left at stake here. For example,Rishi’s relationship with Anamika and Valence—though given a full account of its differences in tropes but never gets into the innards of the rural scenario— often punctures the text, Anamika k projected as a character typical from a Bengal middle-class background carrying with her the hopes and aspirations of the future, yet suspicious of day-to-day existence. On the other hand, Valence offers the possibility of all that the West cat! offer to an upper middle-class character who oscillates between the two worlds—or to be precise, between the systems of anticipation and destruction. The world of the corporate bourgeois and the multi­millionaires of the global times is given a prominence among the many repercussions and movements, their living styles are located within s doubly constructed inner time mechanism of adjustment and their tempo of passions is allowed to flow at unwanted aeons of speed. This is not ,i life dim is emulated But something that is inherent here now. Since speed calculates the movement, the surreal portrayal of the author of Rishi and Pedro’s lives are vivid enought to bring what is before our very eyes myopic - the world of advertisements, condoms, horoscopes, e-mails, continental food, dish washers and disposable diapers are all a part of this atmosphere. Bishwa’s ASHIANA ENTERPRISE, the jobs that are meant for the educated upper class of people, the business lagoons and the bureaucrats with their night clubs and parties are all very mucyh the visible features in the Third World. However, the resistance against this particular set-up, as Pedro often ruminates, can never be c reated by brining a rural atmosphere in the city. Pedro’s wanderings are moe difficult like that the Camus’s Meursault, as the meanings are everytime robbed from him. But unlike Meursault, he never takes up a rifle to shoot a firangi or a Santal to alleviate hsi postmodern existential paradox. Pedro’s sacrifice at the end of the text is another reassertion of his own freedom. His responsibility finishes only when the destruction by the detonators happens. This also is an indication of embracing the modern world’s systems of recuperation. Everything evaporates soon as the poor villagers and their dreams never fulfill what need to be done regarding their future. Pedro’s cosmopolitanism, unlike Rishi’s, never compromises anything. This rationality, by all probability, is an indication against several NGOs and other activist groups that are functioning in our time. The Bengali intelligentsia’s sense of attaching themselves to everything is mocked at; and the concomitant experiences of the altered regarding daily problems are cited here. Outlining the tales of the poor villagers and mentioning that their favourite drink called mahua taken away from them, the questions of alnd and the autochtbonous attachment of the people with it are cited here. This runs parallel to the Nandigram of contemporary time.Later when Chaudhuri write, “Castrate leaders! Sew the labia majora of empresses! Vasectomise some VIPs,” the satire against the popular films in which one encounters the silly death of certain politicians engaged with looting, arson and rape, is brought out. Pedro’s fight is against a system of daily routines and miss-jnatching media that sell celebrities and flesh. This corporate world of late capitalism has its trajectory set out in the world of advertisements and stardoms.What interests the reader most in Amber Dusk is the excellent narration rendered both in the first person account (Rishi’s) and the third person. Before the undeniable fact of moral irresponsibility, Rishi twice loses his mind the blood-lust of narcissism sucks all scruples and arguments dry. There are impersonal descriptions and the nonsensical reflections concerned with environment, mental topography and the geographical locations of India, France and Spain. Some interesting references need to be pointed out. Rishfs first encounter with Daniel in France and flit later realization that who actually Daniel is, is narrated through a sequence of broken sentences, reminiscences, observations arid mainly through a foray into the past. But this going back to the counry’s past is nothing historical as far as the questions affecting their mind are concerned. Both characters are concerned about their present - that is constructed and thrown our by a series of dislocation. The surreal strategy Chaudhuri employed here, it should be remembered, is the one concerned with the nation’s questions of identity. Daniel’s trans-national identity becomes very much regional at the end of the text. Another surreal atmosphere is the conversation of Rishi with the grasshopper. This should be understood as the con­versation with the protagonist’s altar-ego. Again, in the chapter The Cup of Saladin’, these surreal atmospheres are heightened by mixing up the Spanish and the Oriental features through characters that become sign systems like LOPAMUDRA. These references are an exegesis of the character’s occupation with the distant past of Bengal. It should be noted that nowhere in his novel Chaudhuri offers a chutnified language of Salman Rushdie or a greasy mellowing narration of Arundhati Roy that would have suited the taste of many Indian English readers in the West and here,After reading Amber Dusk which book will you take? Or what thought would brood your mind? Though these questions may not give any direct answers, some reflections regarding this type of narration need to be pointed out. It is not true to say that Chaudhuri’s cosmopolitan knowledge system has entirely created a new mode of writing. There are many adhesions and cohesions of oriental and occidental objects of interest in the novel including the Buddhist preachings and prayers offered.The characters lose their identity many times as there are too many conflations with the West and the Indian rural scenario. But objectively looking, the text offers beautiful deftness and felicity of the village people, the boatman and his life and many interesting vignettes on Bengal. Chaudhuri’s is a narrative the furnishes the rural background as a vibrant and active source of many maladies of a cosmpolitan atmosphere. In this sense, this is not a novel that is written specifically for a target audience. This is the difficulty of another type of writing emerging within the Indian English writing. The reading and reception of the text are becoming more subjective, setting aside severe academic constraints and competing knowledge systems. At the same time, this new writing that emerges should be recognized as aa antidote to many academic influences of pushing certain type of Indian English writing ahead and the construction of a separate space of Indian writing offered under the guise of the western jacket of Indian English. Krishnan Unni P
(The reviewer teaches English at Deshbandhu College, Delhi University)
Sahitya Akademi is India’s national academy of letters

Author's blog for the Novel, click here
To read a reference in a paper by an eminent academic, click here


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