Real Time by Amit Chaudhuri

I do wish some of my online Indian acquaintances had opinions about this book; in some respects it is difficult to know what to make of it.

For a start one sympathises with the readers and reviewers online who complain about the structure of these stories. I would describe many of them as episodes rather than stories and for those who like an end to a story, this is a collection that will largely disappoint, most of them stopping rather than ending.

For another thing, I imagine non-Indian readers would find it a hard collection to comprehend. In the realm of fiction, of the various works I’ve read, this is particularly Indian, culturally and even linguistically. As well as the economic and social stratifications evident in Indian society, there is much about Britishness as it pertains to some, and geographical cultural distinctions. Not many outside India are going to have understanding of the situation of a Bengali in Bombay. Still, one wonders at this, for example, from The Kirkus Review:

Little happens in Chaudhuri’s otherwise exquisitely fashioned fiction: witness “The Great Game,” a vignette that employs the phenomenon of soccer combat to underscore tensions between India and Pakistan;

If it were not clear to the anonymous reviewer from the story that this is about cricket – yeah, not the world famous soccer player Tendulkar – there is even a note about the story at the end which discusses it being about cricket. Nor, may I add, is the story about tensions between India and Pakistan; I hesitate to see how anybody could say this if they had read the story. Given this, I can’t resist quoting Kirkus’s self-publicity:

because of the scope of our coverage, our authoritative voice and the timeliness of our reviews, Kirkus Reviews is revered by many as the first indicator of a book’s potential


Maybe having read a fair amount of Indian literature and studied Indian political economy makes this more accessible for me than the average non-Indian. To read what a caring eye observes has added to my understanding of Indian society – or bits of it, since to talk of such a thing as if it were a monolithic affair, society there, is obviously as far from the truth as one could get. It tells you how people live and relate to each other; the watchman with his employer, the wealthy housewife with her singing teacher, old friends who remeet. Actually, an ongoing theme is what happens as some succeed whilst others fail, how that scenario of aging peers plays out in a society where status is so important.

The Denver Post quotes Chaudhuri as saying:

“As much as I admire the contemporary Indian writers, I know the place where my mind lives as a writer is not only composed of my contemporaries. A lot of this place is composed of my relationships to European writers and Indian writers from the past.”

You can really see this in the present volume. It is simply quite different from modern writers like Mistry and Roy. A review by Geeta Doctor in India Today complained that

The only problem with this current collection of short stories is that we’ve been here before. It’s altogether a good thing for the Chaudhuri addict. For others, there will be a sense of been there, heard that.

Well, I haven’t been there before and I’m jolly glad I made the trip.

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