India Today

PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST & POET

ANINDYO ROY’S THE VICEROY’S ARTIST IS A FICTIONALI­SED ACCOUNT OF EDWARD LEAR’S TRAVELS IN INDIA

- —Vineeta Rai

e book is peppered with Lear’s ideas about art, including his doubts about his own ability

Much childhood—and adult—delight can be attributed to a certain Edward Lear who conjured up, among other beings, an old man with a beard that housed “Two Owls and a Hen, Four Larks and a Wren”, often with accompanyi­ng illustrati­ons by the poet himself. As if mirroring his imaginatio­n, Lear travelled widely, including to India. It is this latter, less-known story that Anindyo Roy has brought to life in The Viceroy’s Artist. Invited by Lord Northbrook, the then Viceroy, to paint the Kanchenjun­ga, Lear came to India in 1873, with Giorgi Kokalis, who was employed to take care of him and with whom he shared a deep bond. As Lear criss-crossed the subcontine­nt, he maintained a journal, which inspired this book. It was, however, “little more than fragmentar­y observatio­ns” and Roy has filled in the “gaps and silence” remarkably. The text, particular­ly the dialogues, flow with an ease and wit that feel characteri­stic of Lear. Aging and unwell when he came to India, Lear was exhausted by the di‘cult journeys and sometimes o‘cious bureaucrac­y. Although a guest of the highest echelons of the colonial hierarchy, he nonetheles­s questioned the enterprise. As Lear trundled across the country, he met a host of people, both British and Indian. He rued the fact that he was unable to learn “Hindustani”, but his openness and curiosity allowed an Indian aura to infuse his verses. The narrative is interspers­ed with Lear’s reminiscen­ces, which paint a vivid picture of his life. It was fraught with insecuriti­es stemming from an unhappy childhood, unfulfille­d romantic relationsh­ips, delicate health and, often, finances. Roy’s rich, visual prose and occasional verse strike a balance between levity and the melancholy that marks Lear’s thoughts and observatio­ns. It allows him to express his research and its subsequent rumination in a nifty fashion. The book is peppered with Lear’s ideas about art, including his doubts about his own ability. Roy has painted a compelling and poignant picture of his protagonis­t. We feel for Lear and root for him at every step. A minor quibble in an otherwise editoriall­y well-produced book is the rare clunky sentence. But these do not take away from the pleasure of the tale. Saurav Roy’s illustrati­ons follow Lear’s style and are a charming touch. The Viceroy’s Artist is an engaging and compelling story about a singular man and his times.

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 ?? ?? THE VICEROY’S ARTIST: A Novel
By Anindyo Roy
HACHETTE INDIA `599; 284 pages
THE VICEROY’S ARTIST: A Novel By Anindyo Roy HACHETTE INDIA `599; 284 pages

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