What Lies Beneath

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Black LightBlack light, the other name for ultraviolet light, a searing ray that reveals things hidden to the naked eye with occasionally harsh effects because no one can stand u/v rays for too long. Rimi B Chatterjee’s new book takes this characteristic as its premise.

The novel opens quickly enough in the everyday world of Satya, a reporter who’s given up his beat for the staid world of the teletext and the edit desk. His calm is shattered when a call from home tells him that his aunt Medhasri has fallen off her balcony – the implication is suicide but no one wants to utter that word since the repercussions would be scandalous where a traditional Bengali family is concerned. Satya is quite willing to believe that it is an accident – he even fobs the other news channel reporter off.

But a series of discoveries in the shape of drawings and paintings lead him to look deeper into his aunt’s death. His quest for the truth leads him backwards and forwards across the east, from the BNR Hotel in Puri to Chhattisgarh and back, following the clues that his aunt has left him in a kind of Da Vinci Code pattern.

However, symbolic though the clues are, Black Light is not a thriller. Satya’s search is intercut by a series of stories written by his aunt, stories which are set in dark times and dark ages, beginning from a tale told on a train of Partition and its consequences and going back to the Kalinga massacre and the coming of Buddhism, amongst others. Chatterjee’s historical flashbacks are richly textured focusing in most cases on what lies at the core of religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam – because that seems to have been the key of Medhasri Sen’s study.

The book is not an easy one to read – in the historical sequences, the names and the rituals are something of a stumbling block for the reader and the language becomes obscure to match the pace of the time. Also, Chatterjee chooses to concentrate on the violence that ensues when the individual tries to break away from the norm though the result of that violence, if you can survive it, is a richer more meaningful life. The violence, in fact, is something of an overload at times which is presumably a reflection of Medhasri Sen’s own depressed state of mind at being unable to break free from society’s shackles. Everything, Chatterjee implies, depends on how brave you are about what you want to do because society, no matter how ancient, is more at home with stereotypes than with people who are path breakers, or those who want answers to difficult questions.

The black light of truth lights up what lies beneath Medhashri Sen’s life and the book turns out to be a tribute to those dreamers who repressed their artistic potential in order to conform to stereotypes. It is at one level, a plea for freedom and a delving into the world of myth and legend.

A series of complex illustrations add to the effect of the historical flashbacks, layer by layer. However, sadly, Chatterjee spoils her message with a very predictable ending.

Incidentally, Black Light seems to be a very popular name for a novel, Stephen Hunter in the US, Christian Tremaine and Elizabeth Hand in the UK, all have novels of that name.

Black Light by Rimi B. Chatterjee
Published by Harper Collins India, 2010

Buy book online
Buy book online
Black Light
by Rimi B. Chatterjee

3 Comments on "What Lies Beneath"

  1. Amita Sahaya
    25/09/2010 at 17:47 Permalink

    I have liked and admired Rimi’s complex thought processes long before she began to string them together for her novels…look forward to this one.


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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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