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Monday, March 14, 2011

The Calcutta Chromosome

The author
Yesterday I finished reading Amitav Ghosh's 'The Calcutta Chromosome'. Most of the book was quite slow-paced, and boring to read at a stretch. The writing seemed pushed-through, and there was much more of philosophy and mystery than science, unlike what the reviews seemed to say. The portrayal of futuristic technology and out-of-the-world ideas was also not very well defined, and the time jumps in between the chapters often got muddling. However, the idea behind the book is astonishingly unique and imaginative, and the last part of the book where all the preceding narratives and information come together is fast-paced, gripping and extremely thought-provoking, unlike the mellow feel of the whole long back-story. I finished this part in a few hours, whereas I had dragged on with the book for more than four days, unable to read much in one sitting and taking long to finish a relatively thin book as this.
The cover in which
I read the book
The word 'chromosome' occurs for the first time in this last part, and that too in a sense which is only an extension of the normal usage, which is a fragment of the author's imagination: that fragment which holds together the whole book, forming the base, spine, and soul of the whole story, if at all this overwhelming narrative can be done justice by that flimsy term. In those last few pages, the whole meaning of the time-leaping form of narrative, seemingly meaningless speeches and information, the eccentricity of the characters, all take logical shape and present themselves to the reader in some twisted manifestation of reason; reason which, in the real world, is quite unreasonable. In the real world it can only be considered a mind-boggling combination of far-fetched possibilities, but within the realm of the book's narrative, and within the scope created by it, all of the boring stuff begins to make sense when one reads through the last frantic efforts of the past protagonists, and the inconclusive fate of the futuristic ones. It suddenly makes sense why the author divided the book into two sections: one dealing with August 20, 'Mosquito Day', and the other dealing with the day after, and why he leapt between different time-frames, dealing with the occurrences of the day in question, in several different years across more than a century.

The whole connection between the killer disease malaria, the 'Calcutta chromosome' and the protagonists, and the mysterious existence of a controlling, scheming, invisible hand which partially reveals itself at times and in the end, is so unique and out-of-the-world that it hardly provokes a new belief, unlike the last overwhelming book I read (Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code). This book only puts forward completely off-track science fiction, with hardly any basis in reality, with even its historical references actually being true history overwritten by the author's imagination. The book is a good read altogether, if you can overcome the uncomfortable vagueness of the narrative while it builds up and manage to persevere your way to the end of the narrative that offers only an inconclusive conclusion, the only possible outcome, I guess, for the story hardly has any concrete base other than itself. 
Some other covers
The book has its flaws, for example the unsatisfying portrayal of a futuristic world and the lack of uniform excitement throughout the book. However, these could very well have been intentional, as this fogginess is possibly one of the reasons that the ending focuses the reader's mind solely on the actual 'Calcutta chromosome' storyline.  Thinking backwards after finishing the book, it took me some time to tie it all together, and it seemed as if the author had the ending planned throughout, but had to struggle to take his readers to that point where he could reveal his actual plan. However, having read Amitav Ghosh's 'The Hungry Tide' before and being familiar with his refreshing unpredictability and extraordinary thinking, I cannot decide on how much of the book's initial vagueness is intentional and how much a flaw. This gentleman has a way of toying with the reader's mind, and this particular novel of his leaves many, or rather, most of the threads loose for us to tie; most of the ideas open for us to interpret. Even after meditating on the book for a quarter of an hour, I could not decide on what impact to let the book have on my mind, what conclusion to draw from it, how to end it in my mind. I could not even derive what message the author had actually tried to put through, or had he intended no message, unlike most authors of far-fetched literary fiction? Was it only meant to be an enjoyable read based on a very unique and appreciable idea?
My understanding of this book shall forever remain incomplete, unless some miraculous new interpretation presents itself to me in the course of my pondering and rumination. I most probably shan't ever realise what I was meant to think and feel after reading the book. Whether that is my incompetence of thought and understanding, or that of the author, or of us both, I'm unable to say, and that itself will probably remain one of the indecisive trains of thought triggered in my mind by this book.
Not a proper review, not meant to be. Read the book, and see for yourselves, for I can't give you a clearer picture than I already have given. Revealing bits and pieces of the narrative and making a mouthful of learned-sounding comments are intrinsic parts of a proper review, which I'm not willing to do in this informal blog of mine. As this is a blog about myself, what I've written only concerns my reactions to the book based on the reading I do out of the love of it. (images: Internet)



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