Sunday, September 16, 2007

English, August: An Indian Story

Picked up this book by Upamanyu Chatterjee at Barnes&Noble a couple months ago (ISBN: 1-590170179-9, nyrb classics). Still havent finished it. Heres the outline of the main character (Agastya OR August in English): an elite graduate attends the coveted Indian Administrative Services academy, gets trained as an officer, and is posted in Madna (a hypothetical district town in the heart of India). I am on page 55, and although the character doesnt look baffled or confused by the stark difference in life between New Delhi and this small town politics and bureaucracy, he is yet a calm and serene out of the place officer who escapes the mundane meetings and salutes by means of the newly learnt local tactics. At night he remembers all the drugs and alcohol that were a part of his young life in Delhi. But is still effortlessly settling in at the guest house with a servant at his orders and an official car to roam around in.

The best part so far has been the senior officials already there (the Superintindent of Police, the District Collector) who dont take him seriously owing mostly to his looks (skinny young guy with new age principles?).. August (the character) looks too different from the rest of the office bearers, all of whom are fat, with overpowering persona, and a niche for local vibe and how to do only the bare minimum in a turmoil of politics and government (rather the taxpayer's) money.

Will August stay there? Will he blend in? What of all his friends to went to Yale and Harvard to pursue a greener pasture as he tried to sleep avoiding mosquitos in 45 degrees C heat? Only time will tell...

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