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In this golden age of the Indian novel, it has finally been translated into English. Shankar, the autobiographical and compassionate narrator, is a teenager when we first meet him. He doesn't yet know what "RSVP" stands for, but he gets a job at the Shahjahan hotel, first as a porter, then as a receptionist alongside Sata Bose, a kindly, world-weary man whose life is touched by tragedy.
Bose and even Shankar often take a backseat; the book's hero is the Shahjahan itself. But Shankar cares for the people in the hotel. His passage into adulthood is the frame around which their stories take shape, within the throbbing psycho-geography of Calcutta.
The tales are seductive thanks to the wide-eyed amiability of Shankar's voice, ably served by a faithful translation. Yet in place of the novel's predictable contrivances and cardboard characters, I found myself yearning for the brilliant subtleties within the crumbling Majestic hotel in J.
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Chowringhee has that essential quality of a good novel: the capacity to escape, and help the reader escape, time. You want to turn the pages, but you do not want the pages to end. The words are fresh, and the world of the novel is completely alive, despite being written over 40 years ago. First published in Bengali in , the novel became a bestseller and was translated into a number of Indian languages and made into a film and a play. But it has taken until now for it to be published in English outside India. Perhaps Sankar was too popular to be noted, even though two of his other books, Seemabaddha Company Limited and Jana Aranya The Middleman had the accolade of being filmed by the legendary Satyajit Ray. In a recent interview Sankar explains how he discovered Chowringhee, Calcutta's glittering esplanade and the world of his novel.
Considered a Bengali classic, it is penned down by celebrated Bengali author, Sankar. Chowringhee follows the life of Shankar, an ambitious young man, employed as a secretary to an English barrister. Shankar loses his lucrative job when the barrister dies all of a sudden and is forced to take up a menial, low-paying job to earn his bread and butter. He offers Shankar a job at the famous Shahjahan Hotel and Shankar agrees to take it up. His new job at the hotel turns out to be a completely new experience for Shankar. He soon befriends the manager, Marco Polo and Sata Bose, the chief receptionist, of the hotel. The story revolves around Shankar's varied experiences at the hotel, interacting with the guests, entertainers and the frequent visitors of the Shahjahan.
Near the end of Chowringhee, we hear a yarn from the old-timer Hobbs. This grizzled veteran of the Raj has memories of a Calcutta grand hotel, the Shahjahan - the story-stuffed centre of this banquet of a novel - that stretch back to "the eighth decade of the 19th century". Now, staying on in India after Independence, Hobbs remembers the career of an equally venerable bar manager, Sohrabji. This poor Parsi restored his fortunes by running raucous Calcutta drinking-dens. Hookers, soldiers and businessmen filled his pockets while he, sober and dutiful, would dream of his clever daughter's radiant future as a great professor.
Shankar's Chowringhee is a cameo to the panache of Calcutta
Jump to navigation. Chowringhee, the heart of Calcutta and not Kolkata , is a cameo to the dash and panache of the city. The story spins around the pride of Chowringhee, the Shahjahan Hotel. From outside, it has a grand and unperturbed facade. Behind it, greed, deception, blackmail, seduction, heartbreak and death prowl. It's a tide-rip confluence of distinguished people who turn out less lofty, overworked attendants with varicose veins, servile staff abused by elegant guests, moody managers in love with ill-fated prostitutes, shady barmaids and cabaret dancers from across the world.