William Shakespeare wrote, “Time is very slow for those who wait; very fast for those who are scared; very long for those who lament; very short for those who celebrate; but for those who love, time is eternal.” Avik Chanda’s debut novel Anchor tries to explore all these dimensions of time and some more.
Hours, minutes, seconds... how important are they? Not much if you consider how much time we waste loitering around, waiting for a taxi, or taking a stroll or just relaxing under the sun. But what about the moments you spend waiting for the news of a lost friend? When you are yearning for information or just awaiting for a planned event to take place. Time is the essence in Chanda’s Anchor. The painfully slow ticking of the clock, tick tock... the haunting wait.
Anchor is a story of a night, an eventful night when a small village in Bengal is undergoing a crisis and a group of editors and subeditors in a newspaper await their reporters return from the scene to file the front page’s anchor. Set in the 1970s in Calcutta, the novel has a horde of interesting characters each with an agenda of their own. There are diabolic politicians who lust before actresses while hosting a perfect party with the missus; the goons, cruel yet mere pawns in the battlefield; uncaring and brutal policemen; an ambitious former naxal leader who almost enjoys the glory that comes with a battle; poor villagers fighting for the rights to their land; a young man in love with a woman who he has been led to believe is indifferent to him; a group of subeditors waiting desperately for a huge story and in the midst are two journalists, a senior reporter and a young female subeditor caught up in the storm.
In a book that is hardly 200 pages long, a stream of characters come by and go, and it is not surprising that you have to turn back to some of the pages to catch up with all that is happening but what keeps you clinging is the fast paced, almost film like sense of action. Each chapter has a clock above it, to give you a sense of how fast the time is rushing, even then there are times when the reader feels the sense of desperation that the characters feel.
The long night drags by. From 7:30 pm to 5 am, the novel takes you inside many minds and many locations. There is the war zone like village and the comatose post midnight newsroom, the sleepy drenched dilapidated streets of Calcutta to the posh house where the politician parties with the who’s who of the city. There is humour in Anchor, although dark; there is a sprinkling of unrequited love; of professional rivalry; there are disturbing instances of police brutality and apathy; and crucial questions on journalistic ethics. It is indeed a feat to include so much while also maintaining the colour in the story, the tiny details that stays. Time sometimes goes in a jiffy and sometimes stands still.
Anchor above all is a tribute to journalism. How journalists face the cruellest situations to squeeze out a story, the pressure of reporting on a deadline and the question of taking a side or not. How objective can one be? The young subeditor’s naive enquiries to her senior as she faces hostile circumstances makes you rethink how any news story is covered in the newspapers. How power welding politicians and policemen on the look out of a promotion play up a news story and the incredible courage is needed to uncover the truth, one only few achieve.
There are certain moments in the book where you wish that the author had elaborated further, but then the sense of urgency dawns in. The morbid mood continues till the end and you wish Chanda would write a sequel, a happy end, but just like real life, there is no happy ending, maybe not even justice.
It makes for an interesting although heartbreaking read and you can’t help but wonder if the book was edited on a deadline too, or maybe it was supposed to be written in Bengali. One might find the plot a little half baked and there is a dire need of a climax worthy of the plot.