A writer’s at­tempt to re­con­nect with an old friend and the city of their child­hood

India Today - - LEISURE - —Shougat Das­gupta

As the son of an ex­ec­u­tive at a large com­pany, au­thor Amit Chaudhuri en­joyed a gilded, if cir­cum­scribed, child­hood in Bombay. Per­haps con­scious that it was a tem­po­rary stop, a lounge to be waited in be­fore real life could be­gin—a state anal­o­gous in some ways to child­hood, which too can feel like an end­less wait­ing— the nov­el­ist, critic and mu­si­cian held the city at arm’s length. His child­hood ap­pears to have been a trudge through the fa­mil­iar haute bour­geois route lead­ing from Mal­abar Hill to the

Taj ho­tel, where he would browse in Na­landa.

The city it­self, seething and ca­cophonous, barely im­pinged on this staid, deco­rous quiet. For Chaudhuri, the city he grew up in, where he at­tended school and some col­lege, can be re­duced to a hand­ful of streets and one friend. “My mind tells me,” he writes, “Bombay is teem­ing with peo­ple you know, or have known. This doesn’t stand up to scru­tiny. The peo­ple I was close to in school I’ve lost track of. Ex­cept Ramu.” When Friend of My Youth, a Ben­jami­nesque med­i­ta­tion on Ramu and Bombay, opens, circa 2010, Chaudhuri has re­turned to the city for a read­ing. It’s a re­turn that, for ob­scure rea­sons, he craves, each visit an op­por­tu­nity to re­turn to that shel­tered child­hood, that old friend­ship, a ves­tige of a mostly van­ished past now that his par­ents have moved to Kolkata. This time, Ramu, a drug ad­dict of long stand­ing, is in rehab, and Chaudhuri, stay­ing at a club in his old Mal­abar Hill neigh­bour­hood, has time to kill.

And so, Ramu un­avail­able, the reader is led on a Pooter­ish me­an­der. “I go into the toi­let,” Chaudhuri writes, for in­stance, “and a wave of per­fectly main­tained fea­tures... en­gulfs me. I empty my blad­der thor­oughly.” The 26/11 at­tack on the Taj and Chaudhuri’s odd friend­ship with Ramu are sup­posed to give this en­er­vated book some im­pe­tus. But Chaudhuri is too self-re­gard­ing to do much more than root in­side his al­ready rav­aged navel.

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