Calcuttascape- musings of a globetrotter
Calcuttascape is a book on Kolkata, penned by Sundeep Bhutoria. Being a very frequent tourist, Sundeep has quite a different take on various aspects of the city, which is penned down beautifully in this book. Here’s my take.
About the book
Do not judge a book by its cover or title. This statement is appropriate for Sundeep Bhutoria’s new book “Calcuttascape: Musings of a Globetrotter”. An initial glance at the title leads the reader into thinking that this is a collection of tales about the city. Well, if you start reading with this thought, you would be disappointed. Rather, the book is a collection of diary entries of a globetrotter whose heart is set in Calcutta. The author, Sundeep Bhutoria is a social and cultural activist working in the field of social welfare, international cultural operation, and the promotion of Indian arts. He contributes to various newspapers and magazines as a columnist and has written four other books. The author has also delivered lectures and presentations in eminent universities across the world including New York University, Oxford Business College, University of Turin, and Moscow University to name a few.
Foreward and chapters
With a foreword by Kunal Basu and introduction by Jaya Basu, the book has a promising beginning. Divided into 116 chapters, Calcuttascape contains little snippets of the author’s experiences. The chapter names are intriguing, such as “A Litany of Littering”, “Souked Out in the City”, “The Issue of Tissue”, “A Dysfunctional Function” and many more. These chapters have the look and the feel of a blogger’s diary. However, if the dates of the entries were provided, it would have helped the readers to better relate to some of the historical events mentioned in the book. Nonetheless, it can be assumed that the author wanted to lend a fictional style to these non-fictional entries.
About the writing
It needs to be said that the language is lucid which makes it an easy read. The author’s experiences across different places in India and abroad can be traced back to his life in Calcutta or Kolkata as we call it now. Somewhere, he has been trying to find a balance between his experiences in the city and the world. How he traces the links back to the city is amazing. For instance, when he compares Jaipur Literature Festival with Kolkata Literary Meet or the Kolkata International Book Fair, he speaks like a man who has experienced the best of both worlds and understands which touches the souls of the people of Bengal.
In his words- “I truly feel that Kolkata can snatch the literary meet crown from Jaipur, which hosts the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF). JLF is more of a “glamorous mela” than a lit fest” and “Those who participate in the book fairs in Kolkata do not do so because of the glamour quotient or star attractions. They do so because literature flows in their very blood.”
Some might say that his opinion is biased due to his strong affinity towards the city but as one continues reading through the other chapters in this ‘diary’, one would be certain of the author’s neutral perspective. He does not fail to point out the negatives as well when he speaks about his experiences with popular Clubs in Kolkata.
He says-“I normally avoid clubs as they have a problem with my Indian attire — kurta pajamas. Most of the old prominent clubs of Kolkata continues to stick to some of the rules of British exclusiveness, rooted in racial segregation.”
The entire set of chapters is a beautiful combination of reminiscence and observations. The author talks about the events of daily lives but his experiences are often manifested in an atmosphere of luxury which might fail to provide relevance to a reader in search of a deeper connection. However, a touch of benevolence here and there would leave an impact on the reader’s mind. He effortlessly creates a contrasting atmosphere between humanity and hypocrisy that he has experienced on various occasions. From wildlife to food, to heritage, to cinema, to lifestyle and life in general, he leaves no stone unturned when he discusses issues which have global or local relevance.
Conceptualized in 2013, the book has finally found life amidst the Coronavirus crisis in 2020. The author’s critique on the social aspects of the city comes from a love and care perspective and reflects his emotional connection with the city and his yearning to see it come out of its unnecessary social dogmas and grow with its true essence. His anecdotes lend a visual image especially when he narrates the life and struggles of the migrants or talks about the poaching rackets. In one of her interviews, Priyanka Chopra had said, “Our roots bind us wherever we go”. Sundeep Bhutoria hails from a small town in Rajasthan and his connection with Kolkata has provided him with a strong foundation which is reflected in his narratives.
The blogs have many glimpses of grandeur and luxurious sojourns but they have the vibrant portrayal of the deep roots that bind the author. The chapters being entries made during different times, are hardly related to each other and consequently adds a surprise element for the readers. You never know what the next chapter would present to you.
My take on Calcuttascape
Again, this is not a collection of tales from the city or about the city. Therefore, if the reader can avoid such pre-conceived expectations, the book would not fail to appeal to the senses. The topics would strike a chord in the minds of anyone who resonates with the city life of Kolkata. Overall, the narrative is straightforward, bold, relevant, and engaging. Perhaps a minute change in the title, e.g. “Lifescapes: Musings of a Calcuttan Globetrotter” would further enrich the reader’s experience.
Bon appetit !!!
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** This is a sponsored post and review is given after reading the book **