The Flame of the Forest

March 31, 2017

 ‘[Myna] … moved as though sustained by invisible wings attached to her feet. Her whole frame glowed like an incandescent bronze figure. And I recalled that Myna’s name before she became a kirtani was the Flame-of-the-Forest …’

A young scholar in post-Independence Calcutta finds that his life is in the doldrums. He cannot secure a job despite having completed his education with flying colours. Unwilling to steady his drifting, his lover has abandoned him. And, increasingly put off by the clamour for ‘progress’ among the newly liberated city-folk around him, all of whom are quick to dismiss tradition, he finds himself drawn to Myna, a kirtani who believes she is a handmaiden to Radha, Lord Krishna’s consort.

In his attempts to make a living, he writes frivolous articles for an American magazine and acts as a part-time secretary to his mentor, the Diwan, a political moderate with waning influence. But when Ek Nambur, a demagogue and Diwan’s political rival, puts the latter under house arrest and comes after the young man, he is forced to make a choice. He can stay on to fight a losing battle or take up Myna’s invitation to join her and become a fellow pilgrim.

A sumptuous tapestry of myth, history and legend, The Flame of the Forest is the story of a young adult forced to choose between tradition and modernity, and take up the responsibility of moulding his own life. The concluding novel in Sudhin N. Ghose’s classic quartet, The Flame of the Forest was published in 1955 and is being reissued for the first time in more than half a century.

The Vermilion Boat

March 31, 2017

 ‘Sisi-Magar became my boat, and straddled on its back I was transformed into a sea-god—one who defied the elements and to whom the wind and the waves paid homage. They no longer raved about death, but spoke of abundant life.’

A young orphan leaves for Calcutta, full of hope, to attend university there. But, on reaching the city, he finds he has been betrayed and left penniless and homeless by Jogin-Da, the guardian whom he respected and blindly trusted. Even as he scours the streets of Calcutta for shelter and sustenance, the young man finds himself drawn to the city’s glorious past, and repelled by the religious prejudices and narrowmindedness of its residents. At university, too, he comes into conflict with his peers who thoughtlessly ape Western culture and ignore the best parts of their own traditions. In a time of gathering disillusionment and disappointment, the young man finds a mentor in an ageing professor, Profulla Babu, and love—of a sort—with his Latin tutor, Roma. He receives a chance at redemption, too, after he befriends Sisi-Magar, a tame porpoise in a temple pond, which he must set free in the Ganges.

Published in 1953 and now being reissued for the first time in more than half a century, The Vermilion Boat is the third novel in Sudhin N. Ghose’s quartet which follows the life and career of an unnamed young man. As much a coming-of-age story as an account of the making of the great metropolis of Calcutta, The Vermilion Boat brings together history, legend and myth to create a rich, sprawling narrative.

Cradle of the Clouds

February 7, 2017

In the Penhari Parganas, a district in pre-Independence Bengal, a young man prepares to leave for Calcutta. Amidst apprehensions, and warnings about the perils of the big city, he revisits his adolescence—his search for a profession among carpenters, watch-repairers and potters, all of whom advise him to become a scholar instead; a summer spent teaching Santali children, and his first exciting brush with love at the school; a foolhardy pony-ride which broke his back; and his intense re-enactment of the legend of Lord Balaram and his plough which ended a harsh drought and brought rain.

Reminiscent of the Puranas and the great epics, full of diverse characters and digressions which seamlessly combine into one rich whole, Cradle of the Clouds paints a vivid picture of a child growing up in an Indian village.

Published in 1951, Cradle of the Clouds is second in Sudhin N. Ghose’s quartet of novels which follows the young man—introduced as an orphan in And Gazelles Leaping—as he grows from a wide-eyed child into a disillusioned adult. Long-neglected classics, these novels are being reissued for the first time in more than half a century.

And Gazelles Leaping

January 31, 2017

An orphan, his pet, a Manipuri elephant sensitive about his small size, and their friends—Heera and her nanny-goat; Mazdoor and his donkey White Beauty; Tu Fan, a Chinese boy, and Soetomo from Java—attend Sister’s Svenska’s kindergarten on an abandoned estate in rural Calcutta. The children and their pets live an idyllic life: they have many adventures on the estate, and are loved, sheltered and guided by Sister Svenska; Karin, the Sister’s help; Moti-Didi the washerwoman; and Cha-Cha the wheelwright.

But when a rapacious corporation from the big city swoops in to take over their school, and a gang of juvenile thugs threatens the orphan and his elephant, he must band together with his friends—with a little help and advice from the grown-ups around them—and do battle.

A delightful fable about the innocent pleasures of childhood, and the evils of the world which forever threaten to mar it, And Gazelles Leaping was first published in 1949. This is the first in Sudhin Ghose’s quartet which follows the young boy as he grows from a wide-eyed child into a disillusioned adult. Long-neglected classics, these novels are being reissued for the first time in more than half a century.

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