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‘He was that rare writer whose personality matched his work’

Writer Shovon Chowdhury, who passed away last week, will be best remembered for his 2013 satire 'The Competent Authority'

Written by Surbhi Gupta | New Delhi |
March 1, 2021 9:08:53 pm
Shovon Chowdhury, remembering Shovon Chowdhury, Shovon Chowdhury work, Shovon Chowdhury writings, Shovon Chowdhury death, Shovon Chowdhury news, indian express newsChowdhury died last week, after fighting pancreatic cancer for 11 months.

Writer-humourist Shovon Chowdhury’s grandfather had run away from Dhaka to escape the Japanese bombing in 1945, “not realising that the war was about to end”, and arrived in Calcutta just in time for the Great Calcutta Killings of 1946. “These shared family experiences have left him deeply averse to sudden movement, which is why he has lived in Delhi for the last twenty years. He is too old to immigrate but too young to give up,” wrote the humourist and columnist while introducing himself on Goodreads, a social cataloguing website. Chowdhury died last week, after fighting pancreatic cancer for 11 months.

He entered the Indian literary scene in 2013 with his first novel, The Competent Authority. A finalist for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2014, Tata Literature Live! First Book Award 2013, among others, the book also became the subject of two PhD theses, one creative writing course, and several theatrical adaptations. He started working on his debut novel soon after the 2002 Gujarat riots, after he noticed that most government documents contained phrases like ‘by order of the Competent Authority’. Hence, he started to wonder if ‘the Competent Authority’ was a real person, and spent many years watching and reading the news, and studying the actions of the government to get to know ‘him’ better, he had said in an interview. He later followed it up with the novel Murder with Bengali Characteristics in 2015.

“Shovon had a unique and inimitable talent. He saw, with great clarity, the absurdity, lunacy, corruption, lies, incompetence, and malevolence that lay at the heart of the Indian political establishment, as also the administration, and skewered them with brilliance and humour in his masterpiece, The Competent Authority. I had never seen anything like it before, and it will leave a permanent impress on Indian literature,” said David Davidar, Publisher, Aleph Book Company.

“I knew him but as a writer who burst upon the scene with his wry sense of humour with his debut novel. His comic sense was extraordinarily sharp; quite at variance with the black outfits, he donned. I met him primarily at literary gatherings and those brief engagements were always memorable, full of light and joy. Shovon, with his twinkling eyes, filled with laughter, will be sorely missed,” said publishing consultant Jaya Bhattacharji Rose.

The Competent Authority is one of the most original books of fiction I have read or will read. He was that rare writer, whose personality matched his work. There were no dull moments in his company or his fiction,” said writer Jeet Thayil.

Chowdhury’s blog, India Update, where he wrote on Indian politics and society actively till 2014, was widely read. So was The Trilokpuri Incident, a research project on Facebook, where he wrote a mass murder mystery drawing from 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. He was also the co-author of the Very Rich Whitebook for the National Council of Applied Economic Research.

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