BOOKMARK Amit Chaudhuri’s novel comes after a long gap
He hates to produce novels as regularly as the cow gives milk. But when he does, we get gentle gems like “Afternoon Raag” and “Freedom Song”. Between his last novel “A New World” and his recent roll out “The Immortals”, it’s been a nine-year wait. But trust Amit Chaudhuri to take pride in “instinctively resisting to become professionalised.”
It is not that he had sent his creative self on a sabbatical. Actually, his other personas – the critic, the poet and the singer waiting in the wings – came to the party. And we got short stories, poems, essays and “This Is Not Fusion” — a musical composition combining jazz, blues and Indian classical.
Period of liberation
“These nine years, in a way, was a period of liberation for me as an artist, experimenting with different parts of myself. I became less protective of my identity as a singer,” he smiles. No wonder then that “The Immortals”, which germinated during this period, has the stringing together of the three central characters.
In fact, music has always been a part of Amit’s novels. Either it is used as a metaphor to portray emotions, or it loosely holds the structure of the novel, or the characters are musicians. But in “The Immortals”, he examines the value of art in today’s society and the definition of an artist.
The book looks at the changes taking place in the Eighties India vis-À-vis music and its relationship to the middle class, corporate class and the market. It delineates the decline of classical music, even as it marks the rejuvenation of ghazal genre by record companies as a bid to tap the market; this move helps the disillusionedartists. “It is not autobiographical. I noticed how attitude towards art was changing subtly as the world became uni-polar and free market became a dominant principle. In England, Margaret Thatcher who was suspicious of high culture tried to dismantle public spending on arts; in India, classical music had come to the crossroads in early 80s. Classical singers were embracing new forms. These paradoxes and tensions came back to me many years later as a renewed force and I tried to map my sense of discomfort vis-À-vis the changes.”
“I use my life only as a reference point because it allows me entry into an exploration. In a very polemical way, it allows me a deep sense of being here and now.”
He reveals what pleases him most as a writer is the growth of the Indian publishing scene: “Now someone writing in English need not necessarily get published in the West to get noticed. There is a lot of variety in writing and writers. It’s a good sign.” Just back from London after promoting his book, Amit is currently busy reading books as a jury member of the Man Booker International 2009.ANINDITA CHATTOPADHYAY