Review Blog

Nov 01 2017

The epic city by Kushanava Choudhury

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Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781408888889
(Age: Adult) The subtitle is The world on the streets of Calcutta and this aptly describes the focus of Choudhury's book. Although a graduate of Princeton and Yale and thus successful in the eyes of his proud parents, Indian immigrants who have carved out a new life in the United States away from the tumultuous world of Calcutta, it is that life cut off when he was only 12 that draws Choudhury back again and again - it is there in the streets of Calcutta that he feels his real self belongs. Nobody can understand his decision to live and work in Calcuttta, when he has so much opportunity elsewhere, and it even threatens his relationship with Durba, the Indian girl who becomes his wife.
The book is a love affair with Calcutta and its street life full of hawkers, fish-sellers, idol-makers, the whole gamut of livelihoods lining the alleyways. And most interesting of all is the 'adda', the spontaneous discussions of life and politics that can keep people engaged for hours. Choudhury's book becomes like a collection of adda, he tells us the stories of Calcutta, the intricacies of flat-hunting, the lovers' retreats behind umbrellas in parks, the long enduring crafts handed from one generation to the next, the religious celebrations, and most especially the horrific impact of the 1947 Partition on the lives of the people, divided into Hindu and Muslim regions by the departing British colonialists.
The epic city is a rich revelation of the life and struggles of the people of Calcutta, and would vividly re-ignite a kaleidoscope of memories for any reader who has ever travelled to India.
Helen Eddy

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