THE IMMORTALS by Amit Chaudhuri

Book Quote:

“Shyamji, why don’t you sing classical more often? Why don’t you sing fewer ghazals and sing more at classical concerts?” Shyamji was always impeachably polite. He now turned to study the Managing Director’s son’s face with curiosity, as if he were reminded again of the boy’s naivety. “Baba,” he said (his tone was patient), let me establish myself so that I don’t have to think of money any more. Then I can devote myself completely to art. You can’t sing classical on an empty stomach.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman (SEP 23, 2010)

The Immortals is a tale of two families: one luxuriating in a new world of corporate affluence and the other getting by on the old world of musical tradition. Together, they are joined by a “common, day-to-day pursuit of music.”

Music is the thread that ties this book together, and Amit Chaudhuri knows his stuff. He is, himself, a composer and musician and the meticulous detail and grand amount of exposition is clearly written by a man who has inhabited the world he creates.

This is a populous novel; it’s easy for the reader to lose his or her way in the first 50 pages, and indeed, in other places in the book when many characters are introduced and exotic musical terms are freely used. It demands close attention to the text. Those who surrender to the text will be rewarded with lush language and a complex emotional landscape.

The key character, Nirmalya Sengupta, is the teenage scion of a corporate father who enjoys all the trappings of the Indian nouveau riche. Not unlike many teenagers, he is trying to find his own way with the judgmental zeal that only the privileged can exude. With his long hair, grungy goatee, torn kurta and earmarked copy of Will Durant’s Story of Philosophy, Nirmalya is a purist: he dreams of classical music and softly condemns his mother Mallika, an excellent singer, for “selling out” to commerce over art. He is also more than a little naïve and spoiled: “Nirmalya had never known want; and so he couldn’t understand those who said, or implied, they couldn’t do without what they already had.”

His guru Shyamji, is from the Brahmin caste; his father was a famous classical musician, but he has squandered his artistic inheritance by tutoring and enabling the dreams of the wealthy. Nirmalya might claim he “sold his soul” by straddling the two distinct worlds of classical versus popular music. The juxtaposition of Nirmalya and Shyamji sets up an intriguing premise: who should be granted more respect, the “upper born,” artistically-gifted guru or the newly-wealthy who are now, for all intents and purposes, his employers? What is the relationship between commerce and art and how does it “play out” in reality?

Mallika – Nirmalya’s mother — ponders this diachtomy: “Mallika had wanted recognition, that pure woebegone desire for a reward for her gift had accompanied her life from the start but never overwhelmed it; but she hadn’t wanted to dirty her hands in the music world; she’s wanted to preserve the prestige of being, at once, an artist and the wife of a successful executive. She knew, with an uncomplicated honesty, what her worth was; to what extent would she compromise or to which level stoop if others pretended not to.”

There are flaws. The greatest is that at times, the demand for familiarity with Indian music – particularly classical music – can be disconcerting or even downright frustrating to the uninformed reader. A glossary or short introduction would have been immensely helpful. Still, The Immortals is a fascinating look at the Bombay of 30 years ago — a Bombay that existed in pre-boom India. Most of all, it’s a meditation on how – or if – art and commerce interconnect through insightful observations that are both precise and graceful.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 6 readers
PUBLISHER: Vintage (September 21, 2010)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Amit Chaudhuri
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More fiction for music lovers :

Nocturnes by Kazoa Ishiguro

The Rose Variations by Marisha Chamberlain



September 23, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: India-Pakistan, World Lit, y Award Winning Author

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