It was near the end of last century in 1998. As part of the Raga Varsha initiative, we had invited Santoor Maestro, the legendary Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and his immensely talented son Rahul Sharma to perform at the iconic Al Bustan Palace in Muscat.
Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma during his lifetime has elevated the humble ‘Santoor’ to classical heights by modifying certain key elements. A chromatic arrangement of notes, increasing the range to three octaves and creating a new playing technique. To understand the stature of Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma, he was the recipient of the Indian Classical music’s first platinum disc for the ‘Call of the Valley’ album. He went onto win further platinum discs for the music compositions of films Silsila and Chandni.
When he accompanied his dad to Muscat in 1998, Rahul Sharma was already a hugely talented and handsome young man of 26. Today, Rahul is a music director and classical santoor player in his own right. He has collaborated with international musicians to produce chart busting fusion music.
The mellifluous music strands created by the father son duo at the Al Bustan Palace auditorium that day nearly a quarter of a century ago continues to be part of my album of wonderful memories.
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.
Meanwhile on the other side of the world, Riya with daughter Tiri decide to have a fun day with the elegant Mice couple, Mickey and Minnie. They have chosen to live by the Chronicler’s coaching philosophy of, ‘Life is….‘. As Professor Gracy Samjetsabam mentions in her review, ‘……..sprinkles of confetti of coaching in life skills.…..’
The Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories’ is available worldwide on Amazon, Flipkart and select bookstores.
Adjudged ‘Book of the Month’ for March 2021 by Booknerds, The book has already got more than a hundred excellent ratings and reviews on Amazon worldwide.
Dr. Avik Basu , MBBS, MD (Cal), humbly calls himself a General Physician. But he is also an Intensivist, Psychologist, Academician, Medical Researcher, Author……the list goes on.
But above all, he is today a frontline COVID warrior having treated more than a hundred COVID patients in the last few weeks alone.
In a recent Social Media post, Dr. Avik Basu writes,
“FEAR…SUFFER…DEATH…these are the 3 words, the only 3 words, that should bombard the minds of every single person of this city. Of this country. There are experts who are asking people not to panic. But I will speak the contrary. YES, YOU NEED TO PANIC. YES, YOU SHOULD PANIC. YES, YOU SHOULD BE AFRAID OF DEATH. YES, YOU SHOULD BE AFRAID OF LOSING YOUR LOVED ONES. Probably it’s only this fear that can drive out the madness of enjoying blatantly from the minds of this lunatic species which has long forsaken the realm of logical reasoning. I am no COVID expert; not a COVID-ologist. I am not invited on national television to give a speech on COVID awareness. I don’t sit and explain the principles of ‘Hit and Dance’ hypothesis in news channels. I am a general physician, just a general physician, who are habitually regarded as the ‘doctors of cough and diarrhoea’. But I do take the privilege to state that I have seen almost 100 COVID positive patients in the last couple of weeks. And I’ve treated them……
I visited the Flemming Hospital yesterday to see one of my patients admitted. I witnessed the most dreadful scene of my life till date. Almost all moribund patients. Some gasping, some gone into cardiac arrest, some staring at the ICU staff with apprehensive look fearing an imminent death……
These days even I have started to fear death. Not for myself, but for the family I provide for. When a doctor loses a patient, he weeps in silence. But when a doctor passes away, does anyone shed a drop of tear???”
As Dr. Avik Basu engages with the Chronicler, I remain uncertain who will learn from whom? Who is the true Chronicler of our times?
Book of the month, more than a hundred international ratings on Amazon.
Dr.Viraj P. Thacker, currently based in the US, is the famed Author of ‘The Myth of Prosperity: Globalization and the South’. He is also the Academic Facilitator, Development Consultant and the International Executive Director of Manushi for Sustainable Development.
After reading the ‘Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories, he sent me his thoughts, which I have copied below. Arguably, this is one of the most wonderful acknowledgments that the Chronicler has garnered.
My Humble reflections on the ‘Chronicler of the Hooghly’:
To use a living metaphor, the legendary structure that spans the Hooghly in Calcutta ingeniously personifies the very title of a deeply reflective & flowing read…touching stories of life & circumstance that bridge the history of British Calcutta & Delhi…a reflective re-capture of the social-historical-cultural fabric of India.
To be quite honest, the gently flowing chapters brilliantly managed to evoke a deep sense of my own family history of some 6 generations, in the erstwhile Second City of the Empire…later, the City of Joy!
What truly grips the reader In this wonderful complexity of ‘a touch of the old Raj’ and the deep humanity of the pages that captivate, is the ‘pandemic’ that translates well to our current global dilemma. In fact, the author brilliantly credits the composition of the book to time well spent in lockdown!
The Chronicler of the Hooghly truly resonated with this reader on many counts & in a most heartwarming fashion, left me with a sense of hope-faith in the human experience.
Available worldwide on Amazon, Flipkart and select bookstores.
Looking at the involvement with the book, ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly’ , one notices the creativity and the interest of the millennials.
My earlier sense that the book, dealing with life’s crucible experiences, would gain traction with a more mature and elderly readership , seems to be incorrect. Somewhere in this ‘making sense’ for myself, my error of judgment seemed to have been to equate maturity with age.
Not only did the millennials participate in the ‘Chronicler of the Hooghly’ monthly contests and win, they also are forming a large part of the book readership.
Kanika Sud, winner of the ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly’ contest and her entry.
Sutanwi Ghosh , a millennial professional from Kolkata eager to checkout on the Chronicler!
Available worldwide on Amazon, Flipkart and select bookstores.
As the capital of the British Raj shifts to Delhi in 1912, Junior Clerk Sujit with his wife Bina is forced to migrate from Calcutta to distant and dusty Civil Lines in Delhi. Shanti, born of a forceps delivery gone horribly wrong, comes into their lives. A tale of evolving relationships against the backdrop of momentous events in the nation’s history.
Ashtami is the wide-angle story of the life and times of a couple migrating to Delhi from Calcutta.
Ashtami is part of the ‘Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories’, now available worldwide on Amazon, Flipkart and select bookstores.
Samir, trying to cope with two life changing tragedies, takes a sunset cruise on the Hooghly to ‘get away from it all’. He is intrigued by an enigmatic figure who introduces himself as the Chronicler and asks, “Would you like to hear a tale about all that we are witness to today?”
As the boat journeys up the Hooghly, the chronicler takes Samir on a journey spanning more than two and a half centuries of events witnessed by the river.
Available worldwide on Amazon, Flipkart and select bookstores.
I feel elated to share this kind and generous acknowledgment given by Mr. Vaikunth, Ex Managing Director, Saud Bahwan Group, Oman & UAE, with whom I have had the privilege of working for more than two decades.
“It has been an honour to have known and worked with you, Sir. I have learned so much from you!”
Mr. Vaikunth writes as follows:
I know Shakti Ghosal for many years as we worked together for the same company in Muscat. SG is known for his great knowledge on the business he handled and had the character to speak out his mind. I never knew that he had this other side of a soft story teller. I just finished reading the “Ashtami” the first story in his book “The Chronicle of the Hooghly”. As he has nicely combined the pre and post independence era in this story it looked like a real life story of some one he knew. His style of writing is unique, clean and simple. That’s what I liked about. Congratulations to SG. I will soon read the rest of the book.
Anjan and Jaya were sitting on one of the lovely grassy visitor areas on the Muscat beachside. A gentle soothing breeze was blowing. Two boys were jumping with joy as the Chinese lantern released by them floated higher. Few families were huddled around portable barbeque stands and the occasional aroma of the grilled meat was overpowering. Ayan was running around with a frisbee. All three of them in fact had just played an invigorating game of frisbee. Now out of breath Anjan and Jaya had begged Ayan for half an hour’s relief to which he had reluctantly agreed.
“Would heaven be something like this Anjan?” mused Jaya. “If only we could be sitting here for ever and ever”.
“Hmm, yes enjoy it while it lasts”, replied Anjan gazing up at the star filled sky. He lowered his eyes towards the darkness of the sea in front. “Look at those bluish phosphorescent patches on the waves breaking on the shore. Did you know that these patches are created by millions of tiny marine creatures?”
Anjan had almost failed to notice a small huddled figure slowly come out of the foaming waves. The figure seemed to be beckoning to him.
Snippet : The public beach close to Al Khuwair and Qurum is beautifully sandy, clean and a beach goer’s paradise. There is a raised continuous walkway parallel to the sea face. One may sit on wooden bemches or plonk down on the grassy atolls wirh a coffee and snacks and watch a beautiful sunset. It remains a preferred place for Barbeque get togethers with family and friends.
The bluish Bioluminescence in the Arabian sea waters is a fairly recent phenomenon and some attribute it to climate change . This is attributed to a plankton like species nicknamed ‘sea sparkle’.
Muscat beach features in the story, ‘Fault Lines’, part of my forthcoming book ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories’ which is scheduled to release in February ‘21. For updates, do visit