Tapan Biswas is a junior IAS officer stationed in Bengal where he meets another officer Arunava Varman and quickly comes under his spell. Arunava has a treasure-house of stories and often tops Tapan’s anecdotes with a tale of his own which is far more dramatic. Tapan suspects half of it is fiction but enjoys Arunava’s company and way of recounting so much that he tends to overlook the fact:
But why this obsession with what’s actually true, the real, all that? Can’t you accept that our lives are always part fiction? 76
The first part of the novel is a page-turner in no small part due to the fact that it is set in decaying circuit houses where the past haunts the present:
‘Something about these circuit houses,’ he said. “They always seem to suggest the supernatural. Perhaps because they belong to another age and have just been left behind, almost by accident. They suggest hosts of staff, scurrying about, sahibs taking their ease, sola topis hanging from those hatstands over there, whisky and soda, steaming dishes of mutton and chicken on that large table – and look at the place now. Empty, deserted. As I said, left behind.’ 63
What happens, Tapan,’ Arunava had said, ‘doesn’t ever go away. Something remains, because it’s always part of the whole place, the environment, everything. Memories are not just internal to us.’ 81
However, the later part of the book set in Delhi where Tapan becomes involved with theatre to expunge the boredom of the bureaucratic set-up is a let-down. And the romance that begins with these weighty lines:
I had no idea that my world was about to change because of her. Thus it is that major, climactic moments come and pass unobtrusively. 98
is actually rather tepid.
Further the romance (or what passes for it) also makes the unravelling of the mystery that is Arunava Varman a bit of a drag.
So, all in all a book that I couldn’t put down initially and one that later I couldn’t wait to put down or as Arunava Varman puts it:
I mean, we live on a knife’s edge, between the ordinary and whatever isn’t – something terrible, something hilarious or very exciting, whatever. The difference is’ – he held up a finger – ‘just a fraction of a second.’ 62
It was a truth I had to accept, a truth that underscored that I had aged – one that brought with its attendant images of loneliness and irrelevance. 102
‘A poem’s what you think it is,’ Arunava said and laughed. He held up his empty glass and said, ‘Now that is very definitely not a poem, or it’s a poem, but one of infinite loss and solitude, of what could have been and is not.’
‘In other words, you want a refill,’ I said and got him one. 145
First Line: After his second drink Arunava Varman became more expansive and mellow.
Title: The Teller of Tales
Author: Bhaskar Ghose
Publication Details: ND: Penguin, 2012
First Published: 2012
Other Books read of the same author: None
Having a publication date of 2012, the book is easily available on the Net and in book shops. I borrowed it from DPL, opposite Old Delhi Railway Station [ N GHO ].
Submitted for various challenges.
8 thoughts on “Between the Ordinary and Whatever isn’t: Bhaskar Ghose’s The Teller Of Tales”
Neeru – I'm sorry to hear that in this case, the magic didn't last. But it really does sound like a fascinating story in terms of its premise and structure.
Hi Neer, Congratulations. you have won a copy of The Signature of all Things by Elizabeth Gilbert from my blog http://nishitak,comPlease email me your address details: nishikk(at)gmail(dot)com.
Neer, I have heard about this book though I haven't read it. I do, however, remember reading Bhaskar Ghose's newspaper column on television (I think) back in the late 80s and early 90s. I'm turning my attention to Indian fiction and have planned a few reviews in coming days and weeks.
Margot, even I felt very disappointed at how it finally turned out. The initial chapters had me totally captivated.
Thank You so much Nishita. I've mailed you my address. Can't wait for the book…:)
Prashant, Bhaskar Ghose was the Director-General of Doordarshan. I want to read his memoir Doordarshan Days. So glad glad you are planning to read Indian fiction. Looking forward to the reviews.
The premise of this book sounds good. But I would rather a book begin slow and have a good ending, than vice versa.
I couldn't agree more, Tracy. A book that begins well but ends on a false note is so very disappointing.