For almost four decades, Upamanyu Chatterjee has been an utterly distinctive literary voice, with few equals among contemporary writers of fiction. In these splendid long stories, he investigates, as only he can, the absurd comedy and the grand horrors of the human condition.
The book opens with a story set in 1615 which follows Thomas Roe, the puffed-up English Ambassador to the court of Jahangir, as he bumbles through a subcontinent far larger than his imagination can accommodate; and it concludes with the title story, set in 1984, in which a young Sikh, recovering from jaundice and ennui in his parents’ home in Mussoorie, listens disinterestedly to news of Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the massacre of Sikhs that follows. In the pages between the two, a variety of lives and situations unfold: a middle-class family in Delhi makes surprising discoveries about Shakespeare, race, wealth, and its youngest daughter; mystery killings in small-town Madna teach an innocent civil servant some lessons about the Indian state; the classmates of a thirteen-year-old girl learn of her brutal murder; a boy has his revenge on a sexual predator, while another, far away, seeks release from the job of cleaning the dry latrine in his school; a single man in Bombay brings home a pair of sparrows; one hundred and thirty children disappear from a German village visited by a rat-catcher.
A richer, more substantial volume of short fiction has rarely been produced by an Indian writer.