Vintage Calcutta isn’t new to me. I’ve felt it, internalized it and have went through it over and over again. You can feel the odour of it’s past as you ride in yellow taxis, crusted with brown rust. You can have a taste of it when you enter the archways of old buildings scattered across North Kolkata. You can even feel it in your bones when you float about in the calm waters of the Hooghly (the river Ganga as it is called here). Through author Shakti Ghosal’s stories, I was able to travel once again to the history of this city, thriving and flourishing in new colours while still preserving the vintage hues of the age gone by.
‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly’ is a book that has deftly stayed away from the sparks of bewilderment, or the colourful drama of intentional complexities. Different from putting forward a gaudy show of bright hues, the writing style preserves the beauty of simple colours, that interlink the heritage with commonality. The colours are a bit subdued and faded, but they carry lineage and ancestry.
The book houses stories that attempt to bridge the gap between today and yesterday. There remains always a linkage to the past, which make the constructs in the book fascinating and lively. This kind of bridging not only serves as a vehicle to bring forth the contrast between the ages spoken about, but also makes us wonder how several nuances remain just the same time after time. One story dates back to the pandemic of 1919, and another takes us along to the early 1900s, when the British was looming large over Calcutta, and many more. In all senses, these stories will definitely establish the beauty of churning out tales from the past, thereby rooting deep the feelings of memory and time.
The most striking feature of the book is how the author has let his imagination spurt deeply and profoundly into the crevices of history. Especially in the short story “The Chronicler of the Hooghly”, the author intertwines the paths of many figures of Bengal’s past, who could be considered as the stalwarts of the history of this soil. This kind of attempt of historical adherence to fiction isn’t unheard of, but I feel really sparked that the author still chose to write upon the same. The first book that comes to my mind when I think of the concept where historical figures emerge as characters, is a massive bright jewel of Bengali Literature, the phenomenal ‘Prothom Alo’ (‘The First Light’) by Sunil Gangopadhyay, a book which I keep going back to. Now that I think about it, maybe its time that I pick this book up again from my shelf!
Ghosal’s writing is nothing too extraordinary, neither is too bland that it makes the readers want to give up. He punctuates his writing with the right amounts of facts and fiction, proving the notion that history can readily be made extremely lifelike. As imaginative his plots are, his execution of the stories is also decent enough. A little more emphasis in making the diction more pleasing to the literary eye could have been made, but that shouldn’t be a hindrance to the storytelling aspect.
Heartily enjoyable and holding the capacity to the make the readers fall in love with old Calcutta again, making them curious about the city’s glorious past—this book was one that I would remember the creativity of!
Buy the book here!
(This review is in lieu of a Review copy)