Amit Chaudhuri’s book Calcutta is an account of his life in the city, its past and its present
From slatted French windows to many interesting trinkets on Park Street, Amit Chaudhuri’s Calcutta is a personal journey, an exploration of a metro that has seen much change. Launched recently in Chennai, the book explores his life in Kolkata between 2009 and 2011.
Musician, author, critic and professor, Amit Chaudhuri is a familiar name in literary circles. He has won the Commonwealth Literature Prize, the Betty Trask Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Sahitya Akademi Award. Calcutta comes after three other novels based on the city. “What is it about the city that transformed me into what I am? The first great city of modernity with a certain richness of life that I got used to when I was a child,” says Amit, “I resisted writing this book, and waited, wondering why I must put it in non-fiction form, but when I finally decided to write, I began slowly and it took shape.”
In addition to writing about the city’s glorious past, the author contrasts it with its present; its malls, restaurants and the people. “The idea of the book was put across to me by my agent in 2005, when I was in Berlin,” he says, “He asked me if I would write about Calcutta. As I wondered what to do, a poet in Calcutta narrated to me two anecdotes about a homeless woman in the northern part of the city.”
These anecdotes form the first few pages of his book, where the poet tells Amit that for the poor, sanity is a virtue and where one will sleep at night is more important than one’s address. “I thought there are other stories waiting to be told. Who are the people who live in the city? Are they fully aware of its history? As I began writing, the book began to take shape.”
The author compares the city to family, just as Delhi is synonymous with power and Mumbai with money. “When my wife and I go out we are always asked if we will be home for dinner. That’s the kind of city Calcutta is,” says Amit.
Calcutta is available at bookstores for Rs.599.