Title: The Promoter
Author: Sanjoy Chakravorty
Publisher: Om Books International
Price: Rs 295
I spent 20 years in Calcutta under the rule of Jyoti Basu. I have post-traumatic stress disorder. I feel slightly ill whenever I see a hammer and sickle. Many years later, I saw him once on TV, looking impossibly decrepit. I had assumed he was dead. I felt a spasm of fear, as if he could reach out through the screen and drag me back in, even though I was in Delhi, and he was in a leather armchair in the Bengal Club.
This book captures that time perfectly. I first read it before it was published. I was told that it was a comedy, and I opened it eagerly, hoping for slapstick. But it is much more than that. It is more Amit Chaudhuri than Sukumar Roy, with extremely close observations of Calcutta life, including the sounds sparrows make in Bengali. It takes you deep inside the mind of a particular type of Bengali gentleman. If you read books because you like to travel, visiting new places in the comfort of your home, you should enjoy this.
This book deals with the Bengali attitude towards money. Your average Calcutta gentry looks down on those who seek it. Despite coming from such a background, Bodhichitto Banerjee is seeking it. He and his partner, Cookie, are small-time builders. His father disapproves, as does his uncle, a diehard communist. As a result, Bodhi is riddled with guilt and self-doubt. He is also a 30-year old virgin. His sex dreams are lurid, involving hot air balloons and Angkor Vat. He is in love, but too shy to mention it. He is obsessively self-absorbed. When the story begins, he is in jail, with a hand towel over his face. The rest of the book explains how this came to be. Bodhi and his partner are roped in by his idealistic uncle, to help save a heritage mansion. Bodhi agrees, partly because it means he gets to spend time with Neera, the love of his life, and partly because he hopes that after they fail, he can buy up the place and build some flats. He remains conflicted throughout. His attitude towards the transaction is very similar to the Walrus and the Carpenter, who wept buckets while they ate their little friends. Meanwhile, his love affair does not progress much, because he refuses to mention anything about love.
Various family members emerge to claim the property. They have fallen on dark days, because none of them have been doing any work. It turns out that most of them do not want to preserve heritage, they want a share of the action. Conflicts occur. Long-lost husbands and illegitimate children appear. As the story unfolds, we learn a little bit about how the old Bengali gentry actually made their money. Rival bidders emerge for the property. Eventually, Bodhi is faced with the question that we often face in life — the girl or the money? He cannot have both. Meanwhile, the girl in question is playing mind games with him, which is driving him round the bend. As matters come to a head, he commits unspeakable atrocities on books, learns a vital lesson about lit cigarettes, and finally finds true happiness in jail.
So is money the root of all evil? My dad certainly thought so, and author Sanjoy Chakravorty seems to veer towards that view. Bodhi himself is extremely confused, but by the end he reaches a conclusion. Read this book and see if you agree with him or not.
Shovon Chowdhury is the author of Murder With Bengali Characteristics