Friday, January 06, 2006

Patna Roughcut/Siddharth Chowdhury

These days, apart from Chetan Bhagat and Samit Basu, one more name is doing the rounds of the litblog world in India. The name is Siddharth Chowdhury. The cause: his debut novel, Patna Roughcut (Picador).

First about the novel. And I quote from Kolkata's The Telegraph:

Patna Roughcut (Picador, Rs 250) by Siddharth Chowdhury is about nothing in particular. Ritwik Ray is a small-time reporter in Patna, and recounts nostalgically his growing-up amid the Bengali diaspora in Patna colonies and Delhi University campuses. There is Harryda, his dreams in technicolour, Iladi who attained at 13 the wisdom “very few women attain even at menopause”. Then there are those typical years in college, full of love and idealism. And finally Mira Verma, who Ritwik meets again as wife of his professor. A rather tame start for a first novel.

Forget the last sentence. The book has received praise from reviewers such as Jabberwock and Hurree Babu. J wrote:

Patna Roughcut shows its hand early on; the very first paragraph of the book ends an overwrought analogy with the observation: "The poor shouldn’t dream. They can’t afford it." The remaining 180 pages are an illustration of this statement. Cynical though the idea is, it defines the lives of untold millions in this country - people who reach for greater intellect and "culture" and find that it destroys their pragmatism; that they are still unable to escape the vicious circle of their existence. Chowdhury’s achievement is that he filters this pessimistic worldview through a style that is tender, empathetic and even humorous when appropriate. This is crucial to the book’s success as a story of the aspirations and dashed hopes of young Indians caught between different worlds.

Being a fellow Bihari, I was intrigued as I did not know much about Siddharth. I wanted to.

I could connect with his book's theme as well and it sounded even a little familiar. My own first novel, Of Seminal Fluids, covered the similar ground of dream and reality, though with much less demonstrable success. I will admit that.

So, bending to my curiosity, I searched about Siddharth. This is what I found out about him:

Born in Patna in 1974, Siddharth Chowdhury earned an M A in English literature from Hindu college, University of Delhi before drifting into publishing. His stories have been published in The Brown Critique, Debonair, The Asian Age, The Sunday Observer and the Tehelka Literary Review among other places. He lives in Delhi and works as an editor with the house of Manohar. He is presently working on a short novel.

The Week has this to say about Siddharth:

Of the dozens of Indian writers in English whose debut novels are scheduled for publication in 2005, the one most likely to make a splash is Siddharth Chowdhury. His publishers, Picador, cannot stop talking about their lucky catch. Even Pankaj Mishra, not known for effusive compliments, raved about Chowdhury’s earlier collection of short stories for its brilliance in capturing "the bittersweet irony of our compromised modernity". The novel Patna Blues is being hailed as even better.

Chowdhury describes his own work as "charting the socio-political landscape of Patna and Bihar from the 1950s to the 1990s". As the newspapers testify daily, Bihar’s socio-political landscape is indeed tumultuous, but no English novel has so far sought to capture it. Chowdhury does so through the eyes and experiences of three men and two women who grow up in Patna during these four decades. But the book, says Chowdhury, is also about "literature and art, and the role they play in defining our lives".

Not surprisingly, Chowdhury himself grew up in Patna, though he presently lives in Delhi where, until recently, he worked with a publishing company. He began writing at 19 ("Rather late," he says, "most writers seem to start at 10 or earlier") but was soon publishing short stories in Indian and foreign publications. His first collection of stories, Diksha at St Martins, appeared two years ago to immense praise.

Before Patna Roughcut, he debuted with a collection of short stories, Diksha at St Martin's (Srishti).

As a fellow writer I wish him all the best and do look forward to reading his novel.

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