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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Raga and Riches

Yes,I wanted to revisit a world of my earlier fiction. You mention Afternoon Raag,but I was thinking of ‘White Lies’,a story in Real Time...

March 17, 2009 10:19:49 pm

It has been nine years since his last novel A New World,but Amit Chaudhuri has never been away from the business of writing — bringing out short stories,poems and anthologies. In an interview with Amrita Dutta,he talks about his new work The Immortals (Picador),his city and why nothing much happens in his novels. Excerpts:

Tell us about your new novel,The Immortals. It seems,in some ways,a back story to the Afternoon Raag.
Yes,I wanted to revisit a world of my earlier fiction. You mention Afternoon Raag,but I was thinking of ‘White Lies’,a story in Real Time. It was about a music teacher who teaches a childless couple in the corporate Bombay of the 1980s,about the role of the artist in a society driven by the market and where old systems of patronage have collapsed. In The Immortals,I bring in the young boy Nirmalya and look at the partly comic,partly melancholic misunderstanding between him,as he grows up to be a young man,and his teacher Shyamlal. Nirmalya has very different ideas of what the artist is or should be. He thinks of an artist as a radical,rebellious figure. He can’t understand why Shyamlal has to make peace with the world of corporate values and money. And Shyamlal can’t understand why Nirmalya wants to dismiss this world of wealth. But the novel became bigger and other characters came in. And then there is the music itself,which weaves in and out of the novel as a resonance of the character’s lives and their compromises.

How does a novel come to be — from the moment you think of a story to the actual act of writing?
I don’t think so much in terms of characters as much as I do about language or theme,or atmosphere. I do write every day but I’ve resisted becoming a ‘professional novelist’ because I don’t think every thought is material for fiction. And for me,there are other genres like music,the song.

You have been called a connoisseur of small emotions but the criticism that nothing happens in your novels has often been made.
I completely agree. My novels are really about making something from nothing at all. But those who like my novels aren’t bothered about that.

You recently edited an anthology on Kolkata,a city you have made your home. What is it to live a life of a writer there?
I feel I have a lot to learn about it. In many ways I’m an outsider here and I intend to keep discovering it. My next project is a non-fiction work that moves away from the semi-imaginary versions of Calcutta I have written about in A Strange and Sublime Address and Freedom Song. I intend to look at the city through the idea of property,those who own property,those who rent it and those who have no access to it. It is an entry point to the city as it is now.

Are you working on any other album after This is not Fusion?
I have recorded another album,which I’ll call Found Music. It also interrogates the notion of fusion,ideas of Indianness and foreignness.

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