Virtual Reality

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Sikandar: 10 Players, 68 Days  by  Binayak Banerjee , book reviewReality shows are all the rage on television and even India is no immune. Sikandar by poet and novelist Binayak Banerjee takes an invented reality show called Sikandar as an excuse to bring ten very diverse people together. These include Bengal’s leading actor, a crooked industrialist, a revolutionary teacher, a hermit, a prostitute and several others. They are all on the show in an attempt to win the prize for being the most Bengali of Bengalis – and though two of the contestants are not Bengali, we are told that they are nonetheless eligible, since being a Bengali is a state of mind.

In Big Brother style these people are locked up in a house that takes its name from the Mahabharata, Jotugriha, the house of lac in which the Pandava brothers lived with their mother, a house that burnt like a torch when their enemies set fire to it. The house therefore is a metaphor for a trap that exercises the victim’s ingenuity. People are brought together, grilled and eliminated.

We are never shown the people interacting under reality show conditions. Instead, we see them behind the scenes at night, away from the camera’s unflinching eye and we hear that someone has been eliminated.

The contestants all have their own reasons for participating, Kanishka Dasgupta, the actor, for example, want to make an impression on the woman he is obsessed with. And many of them have known each other from the past. Each chapter is the story of a different person’s life and since there are so many people, it is occasionally difficult to remember who did what to whom. Most of them have an episode of violence or betrayal in their lives which they are determined to keep hidden.

At the end, the narrative seems to become a trifle hurried and one wonders whether some other device rather that the reality show would not have worked equally well in holding the characters together – as for example in Chitra Divakaruni’s One Amazing Story. What in the end does one gain by becoming a conquering Alexander the Great, or a Sikander? Who knows. Since all the action is internal, a Vikas Swarup kind of rush is missing.

Binayak Banerjee is a well known young poet and Sikandar was received to popular acclaim when it was published in 2009. Shoma Ghosh’s translation now makes it available to a wider range of readership. However, the translation’s tone is occasionally an uncomfortable combination of modern and Indian English, using words like ‘liplock’ and phrases like ‘what all they did’. Still this does not distract from the intrigue factor of Binayak Banerjee’s reality show.

Sikandar: 10 Players, 68 Days by Binayak Banerjee
Published by Westland in India, 2011
Translated from the Bengali by Soma Ghosh.

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Sikandar: 10 Players, 68 Days
by Binayak Banerjee

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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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