A Strange and Sublime Address


A Strange and Sublime Address

By Amit Chaudhuri


Book Blurb:

From GoodReads:

Sandeep is an only child living in a Bombay high-rise and in this book makes two long visits to his extended family in Calcutta. This novel tells the story of the atmosphere in the small house where they live. Chaudhuri writes precisely and carefully trying to capture in the rhythms of his prose the faded happiness of things, the strange, pure remembered moments.

From Amazon:

It features a Bengali boy who spends his school holidays at his uncle’s home in Calcutta. Heatwaves, thunderstorms, mealtimes, prayer-sessions, shopping expeditions and family visits create a shifting background to the shaping of people’s lives. Delicate, nuanced, full of exquisite detail, Strange and Sublime Address is a small masterpiece. The book also includes nine short stories about the city.


My Review:

“Pieces of boal fish, cooked in turmeric, red chilli paste, onions and garlic, lay in red, fiery sauce in a flat pan; rice, packed into an even white cake, had a spade-like spoon embedded in it; slices of fried aubergine were arranged on the white dish; dal was served from another pan with a drooping ladle; long, complex filaments of banana-flower, exotic, botanical, lay in yet another pan in a dark sauce; each plate had a heap of salt on one side, a green chilli, and a slice of sweet-smelling lemon. The grown-ups snapped the chillies (each made a sound terse as a satirical retort), and scattered the tiny, deadly seeds in their food.”

The short novella has no story structure, no beginning, middle or end. It is a slice of life, of routine events that goes on in a household in summer, and about the multiple people living in there. It is all about rejoicing the mundane everyday lives. And the prose is beautiful, luxurious descriptions, admirable narration of the day-to-day activities. Consider this –

“He liked the sight of his aunt surrounded by her gods in that tiny room, like a child in a great doll-house, blowing the conch eloquently; it was a strange sight, to watch a grown-up at play. Prayer-time was when adults became children again.”

You won’t be able to devour it but rather enjoy it one page at a time, reminiscing the good old bygone days of childhood. The joy of slow life. Of eating dollops of rice with fish curry. Of Thin Arrowroot biscuits, Boroline Antiseptic Cream, The Statesman, the radio and afternoon naps. Of feeling time pass slowly through power-cuts, mango season, initial rains and fun and frolic with cousins. Those summer holidays at your uncle’s or grandfather’s house. The 90s, the era before the internet came into picture, before technology could increase the pace of life.

“Each time he put a small dollop of the yogurt in his mouth, and chewed on the khoi patiently he tasted his childhood. It was made of the sourness of yogurt, the sweetness of sugar, and the grey taste of bananas. Also the warmth of his mother’s fingers from which he ate the mixture. It was as if his memory resided in the small, invisible taste-buds in his tongue rather than in his brain.”

It was first published in 1991, it being the author’s first novel. And in simplicity of the lives portrayed in here, it is nothing short of a masterpiece. Such detailed observation of the world is so new for me, so refreshing, so serene. Best for those searching for a light read, ideally for the golden hour.


About the Author:

Amit Chaudhuri is the author of five novels, the latest of which is The Immortals. Among the many prizes he has won for his fiction are the Commonwealth Literature Prize, the Betty Trask Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Sahitya Akademi Award. He is also a highly respected critic, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia. Amit Chaudhuri lives in Kolkata and Norwich, and is also an acclaimed musician.


Queeristan by Parmesh Sahani

  Queeristan (Amazon Link) Thanks to Audible Free Trial I listened to this amazing non-fiction on LGBTQ inclusion in Indian workplaces. Author Parmesh Sahani identifies as gay Indian, working closely with Godrej higher management and employees for years to create an inclusive workplace, both legally and in spirit. This book is a result of those years of experience, research, collaboration with individuals from difference spectrum of the society and organizations who has successfully transitioned into a queer friendly one.   Indian history is inclusive. From the Khajuraho temple architectures, to Konark to the Rig Veda, there is existing proofs even 2000 years ago of Indian inclusiveness of queer. It’s the draconian British law that criminalised it, which was scraped in 2009, came into effect once again following a sad judgement in 2013 and eventually was scraped off for good in 2018. I am in awe of the lawyers who fought this legal battle- colleagues and partners – Arundhati Katju

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