The Immortals by Amit Chaudhuri

From The Telegraph:

Chaudhuri_1365911c Salman Rushdie has pointed out that India – in the literary imagination – is a country of magnitude and multitude, a “non-stop assault on the senses, the emotions, the imagination and the spirit”. Amit Chaudhuri makes brief reference to such a “mythical composite of colour and smell” but goes on to show that his approach shares none of the gaudy exuberance celebrated – and often demonstrated – by Rushdie. Chaudhuri’s India is a land of “the banal and the everyday that comprise your life”. Despite the title, he is interested in the mortal and the mundane.

Indeed, it seems that only in the title has Chaudhuri veered away from the explicable. The Immortals tells the story of two families in Eighties Bombay joined by their “common, day-to-day pursuit of music”. There is Shyam Lal, the son of a famous singer, now a teacher supprting an extended set of relatives. He becomes the guru of Mallika Sengupta, a woman with a beautiful voice who “knew she could have been famous”, but less interestingly “opted for the life of a managing director’s wife”. Her son Nirmalya is interested in teenage philosophising and playing the harmonium. But then, not much of moment happens: Shyam gets ill, Mrs Sengupta gets old, Mr Sengupta gets pushed out of the company, Nirmalya gets to study philosophy in England. The novel becomes an ordered tabulation of their unremarkable existence, the words on the page like the “agglomeration of notes” on a music sheet.

Instead of Rushdie’s India, then, we have a much more muted evocation of ordinary India. Chaudhuri achieves this in a way that is oddly hard to describe, given a style that appears so keen to avoid both the exceptional and the exceptionable. So, without wishing to be too reductive, let us say that his writing is best embodied in – wait for it – his use of the semicolon. This enables him neatly to structure his descriptions, and fussily to add on extra qualifications: “the aroma from the kitchen hung among the guests like another visitor; no one remarked on it; no one was unaware of it”. It helps him linger on the “gorgeous banalities” under description.

More here.