Sunday, August 23, 2015

#BookReview: Age of Anxiety by Indranil Banerjie

On the jacket:

India has been Independent for just about two decades when a young Bengali boy, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, takes his place within the portals of an ancient school that continues to glorify its colonial past. India is changing and the city that was once the proud capital of a vast Colonial empire is in rapid decline but the school holds out, white and resplendent amidst the surrounding gloom and depredation. Sarat Chandra, cut off from his familiar world, is thrown together with a bunch of boys who hail from diverse backgrounds - Marwaris, Anglo-Indians, Armenians and Muslims. Within the school’s portals he must adapt and conform to its ancient traditions. He finds a new name, makes friends and discovers the first flush of romance but struggles to come to terms with his family’s precarious financial situation, which fuels his inherent anxiety. Much like Sarat Chandra, the city too is grappling to come of age. Mired in post-Independence politics and economic decline, anxiety and gloom has spread through the populace jostling for space in an increasingly crowded and unrelenting city. The elite have taken over the mansions left behind by the colonialists while the poor throng the pavements and empty spaces. Will Sarat Chandra find his place in the city or is he forever doomed to be the outsider, the ‘mofussil’ boy with an identity crisis? This is a story about a generation numbed by the anxiety of the Sixties and the Seventies, about music dying in the bars, entire populations quietly fleeing the city and yesteryear's generation fortifying themselves within anachronistic colonial institutions to hold out against change.


There are two reasons I wanted to read this book: 1) The blurb. And the mention of a character called Sarat Chandra Chatterjee made the dormant Bengali in me, very very curious. 2) The author. I am a sucker for books written by journalists - fiction and non-fiction. In my opinion, journalists already know the art of presenting a story to the readers, so more than half the job is already done. 

And the book did not disappoint me one bit. While it did take me a while to sit and write this review, the book in itself is a wonderful read. There are very few writers out there, while reading whose books, you wish that they write more and that you get to read them all soon.

In this beautifully written tale of young Sarat, Banerjie has handled human emotions so sensitively, yet one can see sparks of wit. A tale truly beautifully told. Our boy Sarat, grew up in post-colonial Calcutta amidst various privileges. But the thing was, that this privileges came with a price. Somewhere in between all this, Sarat's father loses his job and he is almost thrown out of school. The story in itself covers the differences in classes, homosexuality, the very infamous emergency and the Calcutta described is the one which still exists in the by-lanes. If you've just been a visitor to the city, you might not be able to identify with it, but if you know and love the city, you might end up thanking the author for portraying the heart of the city.

Rating: *****/5

[This is an author request review. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

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