Ghosh and his magic

I’m a fan of re reading and I think I have mentioned that more than once right here. There are many reasons which compel me to read a book that I’ve already perused and, usually, it is the want of getting closer to the story or the character of the book.

This January I chose to re read a complex debut novel by my favourite writer. Amitav Ghosh’s A Circle of Reason finally made me see what kind of writer I want to be. His second book, The Shadow Lines, made the dream a little more difficult to dream. Is it really possible for me to write like him without being called a plagiarist? He doesn’t merely write, he weaves magic with his pen; he doesn’t merely reduce a reader to a follower, he completely, and irretrievably, converts the reader into his slave.

His prose, especially, in The Shadow Lines, goes from one year to the other, and then to another and then to another. The narrative, although in first person throughout the book, jumps from one speaker to another and then to another.

You ask why am I in awe? You ask why do I like this, supposedly complex cross stitch on coarse fabric, that probably forces the reader into believing that such complexity should mean a super literary force was at work and that he better like it or he’d be called a pedestrian reader?

I’ll answer that quite easily. I believe, and you’re free to counter attack this in any way whatsoever, you will not shake me.

It is one thing to be complex. It is one thing to make sense. It is one thing to lasso the reader slowly, by the reader’s own wish, mind you, and make him swallow the bitter pill willingly because the control of the magician’s (writer’s) wand (pen) is so astute that he uses the magic in doses to slavishly imprison his reader.

Now, Amitav Ghosh is a writer who is a perfect concoction of all three. He has complexity. He paints a beautiful picture. And, as if it were not enough, he uses his guile and expertise to make the reader dig deeper and analyse his prose (poetry?) with respect to every tangent.

In Circle of Reason, Balaram and Gopal argue about ‘noisy melodramatic’ movies. Balaram is of the opinion that what Gopal calls noisy melodrama is really educational. When Gopal tells him how nothing is real in these movies and that actors don’t talk they only give speeches, Balaram gets angry.

Sample this:

Real? Is it real to be cut to size with a tape? What you heard is rhetoric. How can rhetoric be real or unreal? Rhetoric is a language flexing its muscles. You wouldn’t understand: you’ve spent too many years reading novels about drawing-rooms in a language whose history has destroyed its knowledge of its own body. The truth is your mind is but a dumping-ground for the West.

This is a small example of how well Ghosh, or any other great writer for that matter, reduces a mere idea into something as tangible as a drawing room and still keep hold on to his main artery. If you’ve read the book you’d know that the entire book is about a small idea. The idea that Reason is what should drive the world and its purpose. It’s not about how Reason does actually drive the world, but how it should. Amitav Ghosh does not bother to convert the reader to his beliefs. He merely paints a beautiful picture.

He draws parallel between Reason and Carbolic Acid and ties it around with a complex slipknot of prose. As a reader, and a wannabe writer what holds me in a choke is not the thought behind the intention and science behind the unreasonableness triumvirate. I mean I’m not here to analyse why the awesome Ghosh did that. I’m all about how he does it and make me not question the idea. I didn’t ask myself why the hell did he do it? I didn’t harbor the doubt of such a heterogeneous concoction? Reason and Carbolic Acid? It does not even belong in the same ballpark!

That’s when his writing takes over!

Sample this:

By this time he was certain that Bhudeb Roy was lying about his reason for closing the school down. He was quite convinced that it was really the Carbolic or antiseptic or whatever it was. He told me so. He said: Bhudeb Roy lives in mortal fear; there is nothing in the world that he fears as much as carbolic acid. His whole life is haunted by his fear of antiseptic. He’d do anything, go to any lengths to destroy my carbolic acid. He fears it as he fears everything that is true and clean and a child of Reason. He’s closing the school down because he thinks it’ll put an end to my work with disinfectants.


To top it all up, Ghosh also demarcates his piece with punctuating it with the ideation of Phrenology. He goes on to say:

I’ve watched Ideality and Wonder and Hope disappear into depressions in his skull, and I’ve watched his squamous suture bloat like a dead dog in a ditch.

All this only in the first 100 pages.

The point that I’m trying to make is that when a person reviews such a book it is very difficult to do so in a space of a few hundred words. Here, I am only talking about the general notion about Ghosh and the first 100 page of his debut novel. Writing an honest, all encompassing review, is a tough job.

Here, at Bookhad, I have reviewed it and I’m not proud about that particular review. I won’t blame my writing skill for it but I will blame, partly, my reading habit. My first reading is about canvassing. It’s more like a reconnaissance trip rather than a planning stage. I haven’t got 100 years to live to read every book I want to. I am trying to grasp my reviewing points in the very first reading henceforth.

I have started making noted in my diary when I read now. It makes the progress a little slower but, hell, it sure is better that reading it a second time.

I’m all for re-reading it, by the way. I’m re-reading Amitav Ghosh because I love his writing. I’m never going to stop this process of re-reading books I love. It irks me only when I can’t review it right after the first read. Especially, since the review is written 2 months after the book is done!


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