Heidi and Seek

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Rajorshi ChakrabortiFor Rajorshi Chakraborti this new novel is a venture into comic territory. A kind of exploration of the world that German filmmakers and sometimes old Hollywood comic thrillers normally tread.

The hectic chase that the book becomes starts with a pink line on a positive pregnancy test – Dev, a young British-India writer based in London, suddenly discovers that his live-in girlfriend, Jo, is pregnant. Without a moment’s thought his response to this life changing news is fly off to Germany in search of his ex, Heidi, telling Jo that he needs to get some old manuscripts that he left with Heidi back.

It’s a thoughtless, heedless kind of rush, punctuated by Heidi’s Tante Moni who lets him stay the night and tells him where Heidi is hiding. What Dev does not reveal to anyone is the fact that he is still in love with Heidi and wants to find out whether he can seize a lost opportunity. He meets her in a zoo with mumbling hippos behind them and returns to London unsatisfied, only to be called four days later by her infuriated mother saying that Heidi has disappeared.

Dev starts on a search to find Heidi with the infuriating Roderigo, the man Heidi left him for so long ago, as his companion. It is Roderigo’s theory that Heidi is in India, most particularly Shillong, and so the unlikely pair set off for Calcutta where Dev’s family lives. Fairly early on in the journey, Dev discovers that Roderigo is still in love with Heidi and if they manage to find her, there is likely to be a clash of egos. The result is an undercurrent of rivalry that Dev hides quite badly – the association along the journey develops through mutual need, admiration and resentment. At the same time, the two men begin to look like each other – Dev’s Uncle and Aunt occasionally cannot tell the difference between them which is significant as both of them share similar attitudes towards Heidi and are on the same quest.

This is a book thoroughly soaked in cinematic resonances: the animosity-turned-friendship between Dev and Roderigo is reminiscent of a whole host of romantic Hollywood comedies. The two men are always on the road, always going. You could actually describe the plot as a series of shared twists, contradictions, and compromises in which one’s responses encourage the other’s actions.

“This is a book thoroughly soaked in cinematic resonances…”

It’s because the two men are floating population that the novel is called The Balloonists. Rajorshi and Dev float here and there running into an odd cast of characters like Dev’s uncle who wants them to invest in real estate because he is broke despite flaunting an i-phone – ‘little indulgences meant to entertain this housebound but not washed up son of a gun’ Then there’s Roderigo’s yoga guru who lives somewhere around the Lakes or Gariahat in South Calcutta whose name is dangled before the reader but who never actually materialises.

We never do get into Roderigo’s mind – the action is entirely seen from Dev’s point of view and Chakraborti’s subtle style – because subtle it is despite the overt popularity of the genre he chooses – demands attention otherwise details can be missed.

The outline of the quest allows Chakraborti the freedom to indulge in diversions that do not really require explanation all of which he describes in prose written in the kind of a language that an up to the minute young British-India writer would be likely to use, for example, ‘I was so wrong footed, so utterly stumped miles out of my ground by this disarming degree of good naturedness that I could not respond’. Or ‘Don’t worry, I wasn’t pushing them in where I refused to tread’.

In the last part for a while The Balloonists ventures into thriller territory, a hide and seek from unknown enemies with a touch of secret service thrown in. And then the book ends where it began, in London with nothing really resolved except that all Dev’s assumptions remain unfulfilled. What the book does is hint at the metaphysics of unreality, but this is mostly on the surface – what it does do is catalogue the sometimes unrealistic ennui that plagues writers of literary fiction who jump to conclusions for no reason at all.

The Balloonists by Rajorshi Chakraborti
Currently published only in India by Westland Tranquebar (June 2010).

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Balloonists (The)
by Rajorshi Chakraborti

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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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