Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Showing & Telling

My review of Sanjiv Batla’s novel ‘Mr J Has Left Us’, published in Indian Literature, the bi-monthly magazine published from the Sahitya Akademi.

Now, I think I was little harsh about it. This is because I really liked the novel and I had really high expectation. It’s a good read nonetheless.

Here is an excerpt:
It’s true. Bhatla’s description of lower-middle class Mumbai is spot on. He describes the scenes with the eye of a painter, detailed, yet full of humour and insight. In the beginning of the novel, Bhatla describes a drinking scene in a seedy bar which is so realistic that you can almost smell the booze. He describes the streets, the guest house where Mr J resides, his friends, the struggling actors who end up working as extras and struggling screenwriter who hide their frustrations in Marxism and Chaplin with clear-eyed realism, which would remind of Henry Fielding’s classic ‘Tom Jones’.

This is high praise indeed, and Bhatla’s efforts deserve it. Unlike the modern crop of Indian writers in English, who are inspired by Chacha Choudhury, Bollywood films and religious tele-serials to writer popular fiction, Bhatla knows his Eng Lit. His literary ambition is mainstream British Literature, from its picaresque tradition of Fielding to the social realism of Charles Dickens to the suburban drama of Kingsley Amis to the tradition of modern British fiction of Ian McEwen and Martin Amis.

In fact, in ‘Mr J Has Left Us’ Bhatla attempts an Indian novel in the vein of Martin Amis. That he is fails to achieve his lofty aims is understandable. The attempt itself is a tall order.

It is interesting, however, to figure where Bhatla fails. This is an easy question to answer.

The premise is easy – contrast a naïve young man against the backdrop of a microcosm of modern India that is Mumbai and observe the results with a wry, ironic eye and repot about it with dollops of humour. Bhatla tries his best, and almost succeeds.

But. There’s always a but.

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