Broken States

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Rupture by Sampurna Chattarji, published by Harper Collins India.Nine characters, five cities and 24 hours – that’s the trail that Sampurna Chattarji’s “Rupture” follows, helter skelter – at a pace that engages the reader’s imagination.  In the first few page everyone seems to be in a rush, running to catch something or do something.  And ahead of them looms an immense catastrophe, though you don’t realize that until you have gone deeper into the book.  ‘Nothing appears as it should in a world where nothing is certain. The only thing certain is the existence of a secret violence that makes everything uncertain’ – the opening quotation from Lucretius sets the expectation trend.

What strikes you is the prose – poetic, textured and complex. Apt for a narrative that explores “the glittering space between science and fiction”. And at first, the effort of diving into the prose seems daunting, especially since there are paragraphs of dramatic monologues on the subject of alienation which go on for pages, with glittering fragments of sentences to spark the imagination. “I will plug out of this world into some other neo-reality’ she writes.’ I will become more than just flesh. An idea. A mutation. A channel…”

The characters that Chatarji introduces you to include Partho, who is a film loving Bong stranded in Kanpur;   Tennyson, who is a diviner with obscure roots and is called to Mumbai from Hyderabad; Nazrul whose parents want him to leave the backwater of Baruipur for Germany; and the retired Biswajit, who is living with his daughter in Mumbai and comparing it with the Kolkata he left behind him at every step, Jonaki, the ad executive with nothing special about her.

Some of the characters are linked to each other through flashback stories; some of them follow parallel courses of action. Where is the rupture of the title, you wonder, who is separated from what and you grope for answers. Perhaps it’s the form that’s ruptured, or the way the characters look at their lives hunting for the ‘big picture’. Chattarji of course did say that the title wasn’t the first she had chosen – she was rather inclined upon “The Violence of Afternoons”, sort of on the same lines as “The Alchemy of Desire or an Atlas of Impossible Longing”.

As the pages continue turning, you begin to wonder whether perhaps all this was originally a series of short stories which some clever hand intermingled – a suspicion that Chattarji confirmed at her Calcutta launch when she talked about how the book came into being in its current form.  And as befits short stories, some of them have obvious endings, while others are more subtle. Jonaki’s story for example has an ending of sorts – kindness betrayed in a climax that seems a force fit. The retired Bengali father Bishwanath finds his own kind of peace, while Tennyson wanders into the territories of the mind in a Gita Mehta sort of vein.

What holds the stories together is the 24-hour structure, allowing Chattarji the cusp of a single day in which to slot the different places and different times. However, despite Bishwanath’s comparisons between Mumbai buses and Kolkata buses, the difference between the places is hardly emphasized. Perhaps there is something in all this of what Italo Calvino says, “Travelling, you realize that differences are lost: each city takes to resembling all cities, places exchange their form, order, distances, a shapeless dust cloud invades the continents.”

Occasionally, as if she herself realises that a novelist must be kind to the reader, she tries to break up the flow with excerpts from a journal. However that act of generosity does not always work.

Certainly Chattarji’s novel is impressive in its scope and the risks it takes with structure.   Rupture is a very conceptual work – and hardly surprising since Chattarji takes the French model for her blueprint, if it can be called that. There is something in the novel of Resnais’ enigmatic arts of memory which delve into tiny details of everyday life.

The odd thing is that “Rupture” follows the current Indian trend of taking book titles from abroad. In this case a detective story about a school shooting by Simon Lelic, published by Picador.

Rupture by Sampurna Chattarji, published by Harper Collins India.


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by Sampurna Chattarji

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Written by Anjana Basu
Anjana Basu

Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. In 2003, Harper Collins India brought out her novel Curses In Ivory. In 2004, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland where she worked on her second novel, Black Tongue, published by Roli in 2007. In February 2010. her children's novel Chinku and the Wolfboy was brought out by Roli. She writes features for travel magazines and reviews for Indian newspapers.

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