However this is not a review of the book. This is about the city of my childhood being described on a global stage by one of the best story tellers this age has seen. The novel starts with the two brothers growing up and going to college- Udayan to Presidency and Shubhash to Jadavpur University. Udayan then slowly gets influenced by the Naxal Movement and eventually joins it. I grew up in Tollygunj, next to the walls of the Tolly Club, near Technicians studio. I grew up in the Lowland! In my growing up years, here, the Naxal movement was still clearly remembered, deeply felt.
The time being described in her novel is of course, the 60-s, when the Naxal movement was at its peak. This is the time of my mother's growing up. She lived right there, very close to where our house is now. Here, in the heart of the uprising, I met parents whose children had been taken, never to be seen again. I was pointed out trees, under which someone had been murdered by the police. I was shown fields, or erstwhile fields, where someone's son or brother had been taken, asked to flee, escape... and then while the incredulous boy-man would start running to his imagined freedom, there would be a gun-shot from behind. This was supposed to be an 'encounter'. This is how Lahiri has Udayan die. And this is how, hundreds of a generation ware wiped out.
|Golfers at the Tolly Club|
|Inside the Tollygunj Tram depot... |
just as it used to look. To get a seat,
we would catch our tram from here.
When they decided to take trams off the road,
we were amongst those who petitioned against it,
with signature campaigns et al.
Lahiri describes the locality around the Technicians Studio in absolute perfect detail. It is just as she says in the book. The mosque, the roads weaving in and out, too narrow for the huge Ambassador taxi cars. It was so close to home, that I even felt a bit angry to read her describe MY territory. I felt she stole MY story. Of course she didnt. But she almost described my house, dammit!
|College Street stalls... there are hundreds of these|
|Part of the staircase, leading past English to the|
|Burra Bazaar in North Calcutta... notice the verandahs|
(Lovely Kolkata images from www.doornumber3.in)
The book took me back two decades, in the Tollygunj of my childhood, and then, to the Presidency of my early adulthood. It made me want to go back and see them as I saw them then. It is almost an anti climax now when you go there. Yes the Club is there, the tram depot, which also has the metro station now, and then you cross the Sangeet Research Academy (later than the period of the book) and reach Technicians Studio. You can see the mosque, the market which the book mentions in passing. No, the lowland is long gone. It is bustling city now, in all its squalor and glory. In all its ambitions and capabilities. But it is still my Tollygunj. It is still my Calcutta.
All images from google images.