After a quite steady spell with three books of non-fiction, based on Calcutta and Tagore – now Amit Chaudhuri is back to where he belongs more, the prose writings in fiction. Odysseus Abroad is his sixth novel, which essentially tries to see the ‘ordinary aspects of life’ – and thus gets overt inspirations from two literary masterpiecesof yore days – Homer’s Odyssey and James Joyce’s Ulysses. How begins Odysseus Abroad.
The novel has its protagonist in a young college going Ananda, who lives in Central and north London for a degrree in English literature. Another central character is Ananda’s uncle, Rangamama, an eccentric bachelor who has taken early retirement and lives off his confortable pension but in hygiene-less surrounding in Belsize Park. Here he lives with his combative personality in unusual but regular fashion – with no bath and relying too much on paranormal stories.
Anand, presents a contrast views with leaving impress of a fragile, nervous and romantic young scholars living away from home with certain goal and perspectives. But at common side, they both yearn to circle around their past, rove through the streets of London and found in each other an unspoken bond, amount of not less than ‘solace’.
In his admittance of Chaudhuri, a substantial part of this novel traces a single day in Ananda’s life – not much different from how Joyce did with Leopold Bloom and Woolf with Mrs Dalloway. The predicament of bond hardly deters a young man and an old man, being in friendship – sharing loneliness and the realities of life together, distant from home that exactly is not located.
As in sharp memory, the home is Calcutta – but in vague reckoning, it is also in Sylhet – but the displacement comes with heavy bearings, so it hardly surprises when Ananda’s doesn’t really feel close affiliation with cooks from Sylhets (now in Bangladesh) in London. The home and the world is not neccessaily lives through the soft canopy of memories.
It would be hardly an exagerration to term this novel, coming very close to Amit Chaudhuri’s own life – his parents came to this side of Bengal from the place, now in Bangladesh at time of bloody partition. His Uncle, Rangamama’s different approach for provincial tracts show how only one lived in certain region could miss it properly. Even unintentionally, it seems he is a sort of icon of those who lost the ground beneth their feets for unknown reasons. The following events make flury not anything definitive that could be co-related with what lost.
In delving on this essence, Chaudhuri makes his latest masterwork, truly seminal. He establishes a good trend through his latest novel to inquire and know about the things compartmantalised as ‘ordinary’. Not woven through the predictable broad canavasses, the novel simply puts focus to revive the missing links, those causes someway loniliness for two persons of different generations but from a family. Finding family link as prime mover of the story, Chaudhuri once again confirms he is an universal writer with most charismatic sense of using prose.
In South Asian literartures, we often see the contexts compulsively moulded with grandness – this is more so with the English novels from this region. That makes the position of ‘individual’ and ‘non-significant’ essentially belittled – in that process, we see a great chunk of direct exoeriences of joy or sorrow loosing their represntation in standard genre of literatures.
A novel, primarily shaped through a protagonist is something elusive in this part of world – however time and again, there is some exceptions like Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Agyey’s Shekhar: Ek Jeevni, Pankaj Mishra’s The Romantics or Amit Chaudhuri’s A New World. But that kind of writings need to be scaled-up to cover what has been not said about the human suffering and their persistence with life. Once again Amit Chaudhuri has written a highly readable novel, with effortless balance on narrative – this deserves to be known, as one of the most remarkable works from him.