The Chronicler of Hooghly and other stories by Shakti Ghosal.
This collection of stories is the first book penned by the author. But his captivating style of narrating tales bears testimony to the fact he is an accomplished writer of prose. According to the author, these four stories are inspired by his personal experiences. However, he has woven these stories into a multi-hued fabric of history, societal norms prevailing at that time and the Bengali culture linking it to modern times. The prominent aspect is that the reader gets a taste of both the ancient and modern times and the switch over is amazing. For historical perspective, the author has relied on various secondary sources of which he has produced a list of references at the end of the book.
His last story, The Chronicler of the Hooghly, has its beginning from the year 1756, one year prior to the most eventful Battle of Plassey which totally changed the political scenario of not only Bengal but of the whole India. As we know as a part of history that by winning this battle, the Britishers through East India Company successfully laid the foundation of British rule in India subjecting the people of India under the yoke of ignominious foreign rule for about two centuries. This story highlights the unfortunate actions of self-seeking power-seekers who played treacherous and deceitful games in furtherance of their own petty interests. In the process, they even compromised the independence of their kingdoms by their shameful betrayal to the British authorities. Omichand, Nabakrishna Deb and other characters are representative of such phenomenon with which the annals of Indian history is replete. Sowing the seeds of discontent through every ploy under their arms among the local chieftains, significant persons in the establishment and the menial servants and petty officials had been the main plank of the winning strategy of the British authorities in India. The author, in this story has successfully sculpted such characters with finesse and authenticity which evoke readers interest so much that it becomes almost impossible to put down the book before going to the end. Author has narrated this story through a stranger who has linked the history of Bengal, the development of modern Kolkata and the making of British rule in India via Bengal to the pious Hooghly river’s saga. This part of the story is a unique feature. Civilizations usually grow at the banks of rivers and vanish in due course of time. But the river remains there standing as the real chronicler of the events taking place in different regimes at different times. Lastly, the author has laced the narrative with the anecdote of pearl necklace touching the chord of spiritualism and moral beliefs of the people. The whole story is narrated in fluent style keeping the reader glued to pages after pages till the end.
The third story Fault lines deal with a unique idea that may easily be counted within the realm of psychology! The story carries a loud message that despite all our conquests in the contours of day-to-day life, it is our alter ego who decides the final results. Sometimes, we weave around our thinking faculty a mesh from where we see everything done by us as rightly done! But this is not so. There is someone who reminds us or rather shows us our fault lines, at least once in our lifetimes. Alter ego does that acting as mirror to our mind’s eye! Set in the foreign land, Muscat, Oman, this is a story of two close friends who are diametrically opposite in temperament and approach towards life. As destined from above, they are in the race to woo the same girl. But this time, the slow-moving tortoise loses the race to the guile of his worldly wise and fastmoving friend. The loser quits the field. However, one day the girl, now a married woman, finds an unread envelope of the loser friend and ultimately knows the truth. Her inner self rebels and she leaves the place of her husband loaded with a heavy sense of remorse. The story has been narrated in fluent style, which is the hallmark of the author’s genius. As it comes out in all his stories, the author’s familiarity with the places and the incidents adds to the natural flow of the narrative.
Pandemic is the second story of this collection. Author has picked the threads of this story from the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919, and the scenario is old Calcutta. He has taken it to its logical end by linking it to prevalent COVID-19. Interestingly, nothing has changed manifestly. In the olden times, we were as ignorant about the disease as we are today. At that time too, there were no specific medical prescriptions or safe vaccination regime. The condition is albeit same today. Though the growth of science and technology has made tremendous strides. We are running through the age of computers. But the most interesting aspect is that human nature has not changed a bit! In the times of crisis like the pandemics, the appearances of Good Samaritans do decrease! Moreover, the moneyed class remain indulgent in the pursuit of materialistic pleasures, come what may! The central character of this story, a woman of insatiable thirst for male company remains oblivious of the dreaded impact of novel corona virus of the present times, and constantly seeks the presence of her one-time beau, the hero of this story. However, everything ends so quietly and all of sudden that might be the dream end of the current pandemic also! At least, we can wish and pray for such end! It safeguards the lives of many, particularly of the hero’s family and the story comes to a sudden halt with a happy ending. Like other stories of this collection, the author has described the life and times of Calcutta of yore and the Gurugram of the present in great detail. The narration is fluent and flawless, as usual.
The first story of this collection Ashtami is simply superb. The author has cooked up his story raising a very socially relevant issue in the crucible of history which is the forte of his writing mindset. Starting from the infamous partition of Bengal of the year 1905 masterminded by the staunch imperialist Governor-General, Lord Curzon, he ends the story in the backdrop of communal frenzy in the wake of India’s freedom, 1947 to be precise. In both the settings, there were people’s protest culminating into deadly communal riots. But in between and at the troubled times, the chanting of Durga Saptashati slokas, the widely resonating sounds of dhak and the auspicious puja of Maha ashtami come live in this story. In all his stories, the author has successfully sprinkled the aroma of the culture of Bengal and the Indian ethos with credibility. The end of the story comes to us as a brainstorming session. The message is loud and clear. We still lack a general understanding and overall empathy for the special children who are still considered a burden on their families. Despite a better awareness level regarding the problem, we still treat our special children not as a gift of God but as a curse of God. The sudden downfall of Shanti, the main protagonist of the story, becomes nobody at the time of riots. The author has portrayed the nasty and heartrending picture of ensuing riots in Calcutta and New Delhi with rare sensitivity. In this backdrop, he had chosen a very much socially relevant theme, for which he deserves appreciation.
Though this is his first book of fiction, and he is not a professional writer, his acumen and flair for writing are simply commendable. This is unputdownable book, once you start reading. The narration reminds us of rivers in the hilly terrain that despite rugged interface with rocks and boulders, keep on flowing in a rhythm and reaching their destination without much ado. The readers must read this book as a visit down the memory lane in regard to forgotten annals of Indian history, particularly of Calcutta and Bengal. The most interesting aspect is that the whole narration is centred around the river Hooghly which, sometimes appears to narrate by herself its own story through the powerful quill of the author itself. Kudos to the author for his brilliant debut as an author on the Indo-English literary firmament in India.
Copyright@ Rakesh Chandra.
The Chronicler of the Hooghly continues to make emotional waves worldwide with more than a hundred excellent ratings and reviews on Amazon and Good Reads.