On a usual tropical evening in Mumbai few moons ago, I had the pleasure of being in conversation with Amit Chaudhary’s new release, Friend of My Youth. This book is a short and crisp novella revolving around friendship and childhood memories in the city of dreams – Mumbai.
Appreciating the poignancy in the writing, Anil Dharker talked about the minimalistic narrative without any plot or action clearly trying to understand if the plot-less-ness was a literary device to show the ruthless mind of an author. Something in the description clearly points at the author being the protagonist himself. Amit Chaudhuri clearly denied this stating, “The author and the narrator are not the same. Their thought process is different. Though it is meant to be confused with me, it is not me. There is a degree of detachment. Those texts discuss this enactment.
The book is an exploration into what it would be like to being in action and being a spectator it at the same time.
Strongly disliking the term memoir being associated with it he further elaborated, “I am not interested in that genre. I don’t want to tell people about my life. Moreover, it isn’t a right setting for a memoir with the whole story covering only 1.5 days in the life of Amit Chaudhuri, the writer who visits Mumbai for a book launch and Ramu his childhood friend. Basically, I am not a humanist. My characters are not the center of the universe. In a city there are many things which comprise of what we are. My stories talk about those things.” The passion in his voice making most of us believe that the title was thought of first, which in itself inspired from Alice Munro’s works leading to these memories associated with the author’s childhood. Further clarifying on this he added, “The title wasn’t the idea or the trigger. While reading One Way Street, a particular dream sequence about a city being under attack was the trigger in a way. However in my writing I intended to confuse my readers. What is it? An essay, a poetry, fiction or non-fiction, I wanted them to wonder. I believe it is useless to be bound by boundaries and I wanted to test them. For me, I just wanted to write something interesting and random to me is the most interesting.”
I think we all have that one city which is a treasure trove of memories for us. Every visit to that city is like a walk down the memory lane. That childhood home where we played hide and seek, a favorite restaurant, secret hangout places with friends, school, college, that lane where we won out first gully cricket match…everything and anything makes that city special. A particular scene that fascinated me the most in the book was when the protagonist Amit Chaudhuri and his friend Ramu are out in a cab and they suddenly notice the houses, the elegant ones which embrace heritage in the safe confines of its crevices. The description shows them looking at the houses transfixed, expecting it to take them into another time. They stare unblinkingly at a city which is the same but is completely different. A transformation which has happened but it still feels familiar. That moment for me describes growing up the best. When we grow up, we still feel the same we did as kids but somehow we know we have changed. Definitions of a lot of things have changed for us and yet we try to hold onto that last thread of childhood, of familiarity which makes us feel secure and gives us a sense of belonging.
As I held the book, a sense of longing engulfed me for a city that I had fallen in love with 15 years ago – Mumbai. A city that has a sense of aliveness in it despite its vast discrepancies in lifestyles, a city that has grown manifold to make itself the most happening city in the country at the moment and still has hung onto its cultural heritage strongly. If there is one thing stayed with me long after it was all over and by all I mean both the book and the book launch, then it would be the core message of the book – “You cannot control your life!” for that is a complacency we all have grown up with.
Written by: Namrata
A lost wanderer who loves travelling the length and breadth of the world. A published author in various anthologies and magazines she enjoys capturing the magic of life in her words. Having recently completed a travel writing course from University of Sydney, she is now in pursuit of a new country and a new story.
Author(s): Amit Chaudhuri
Publisher: Penguin RHI
Release: April 2017
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