A Living Memory : A New Novel by Pronoy Chatterjee

Living MemoryFrom amongst a small but distinguished crowd of novelists of Indian origin in this country, Pronoy Chatterjee may not be a name that stands out in the public eye. The more famous authors like Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Amitav Ghosh and others have enjoyed the limelight more than some of the less famous writers like Pronoy who write for the love of writing, who write to express their deepest feelings for humanity – in the little time they can extract out from the busy daily life of a well renowned professional. But, it is the authors like Pronoy, who can sometimes tell us the tales that we have lived though all our lives, the tales that bring back memories of a past that we long for, bring in hopes for a future that we all dream about.
“A Living Memory” is Pronoy’s second novel (published by Author House) where he tries to “capture the complexities of desire and conflict in a small village in colonial India”.
I have not read the book as yet, but the story line (given below) has attracted me enough to get a copy for myself to read.

India during the 1930s and ’40s was in a state of turmoil. Violent revolution against British rule, ethnic riots and widespread famine and disease on the national scene were eventually reflected in even the most remote villages. A Living Memory, retreats to that local, personal level, revealing the intricate psychology of social stigma, of love under adverse circumstances, and of the inescapable duality of dreams and disappointments.
Surrounding a sugar mill, the village of Alipur on the Mahi River is a close-knit community where families live in harmony. Bloody revolts against British colonialism, Hindu-Muslim riots that turn into massacres, and famine and epidemics have not yet disturbed the village’s tranquility.
One day a young girl, Runu, is found missing from her home. She has been taken captive by Mr. Bose, the most influential man in Alipur, who thinks he can take whatever he wants. By coincidence Runu is recognized by a boy named Tushar, who brings her back home, and a bond forms between them. Over time their intimacy deepens, but circumstances keep them apart.
Runu’s life is filled with uncertainty and disappointment, with love and hope. Although she enters into an arranged marriage, her dreams of Tushar remain. Fourteen years later, her husband dies of a heart attack. Runu becomes obsessed with returning to Alipur and reuniting with Tushar. But everything has changed.
The mill has been shut down. Rampant ethnic discrimination has robbed workers of their jobs. When Runu finally finds Tushar after a hard and complicated journey, she cannot connect with his world. Dismayed that the harmony of her youth and the promise of her happiness have been shattered, Runu is left with only a living memory.

I had asked Pronoy, what motivated him to write a novel about a period that seems almost like a long lost nightmare? He answered

“My initial motivation for writing this book was to have a glimpse of my own childhood. First few chapters illustrate the environment under which I grew up till age 10, in Bihar and in a sugar mill community. However, as I was writing it developed as a fiction based on facts, not necessarily happened at the same place or to the same characters that I portrayed in the book. However, the incidents were true, happened to somewhere and to someone. Because I started with my childhood so I had to chose that specific period, late 1930s onward. I also wanted to illustrate the the incidents of Independence movements and the horrors of famine, flood and riots during that era.”

I have seen many movies of this period (Ashani Sanket – The Distant Thunder by Satyajit Ray comes to my mind), read several books and heard stories from my parents and grand-parents and the period always intrigued me, horrified me. I thought we were really blessed to have not experienced those days. But I guess, the period has also helped us to identify ourselves, to understand our vulnerabilities and develop as a better human being and a better nation. Pronoy’s “Living Memory” will once again help us to reflect upon those days and appreciate the struggles and pains that our earlier generation had to go through to make our lives better. I look forward to read this book.

On a separate note, I had asked Pronoy another question, “Pronoy-da, English is not your mother tongue, but still you write in English. Is it because you feel you can express better in English or you want to reach a wider readership?”
And Pronoy-da answered,

“No, it’s neither one that you stated. I like to write in Bengali, but I cannot type Bengali and never took time to practice it. Writing a 300 page book in longhand and then to keep on revising and rewriting is extremely tedious and I don’t have that patience. Typing in English and making revisions and editing have become technically very simple with Microsoft Words and that’s the only reason I wrote in English.”

“A Living Memory” is available at all the major online stores (like from Amazon.com : A Living Memory ) as well as from the publisher directly AuthorHouse.com. If you read the book, please send in your comments on this site.

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