The first feature of The Baptism of Tony Calangute is its lyrical prose. For any writer who is starting to take the baby steps into writing, this book will elaborate the genuine practical lesson what it means to write a lyrical prose. The lovers of the sanguine, idyllic country life, like the one we see in Thomas Hardy and the exotic setting of a long lost country-life at a faraway place with names and characters that are equally curious like that one meets in Marquez, this book would be a feast. This is a book that creates a mood and develops an environment and landscape rather than focusing on only telling a curious story.
Sudeep Chakravarti has roots in Kolkata and his heart is in journalism. When he writes stories that reflect upon the various elements of human life he resorts to his eyes of the journalist. And Chakravarti sees the world with clarity and objectivity that are unique to a journalistic perception. Chakravarti wrote a book, previously that was based on the like Kolkata and West Bengal. The Bengalis: A Portrait of a Community delves into the life and human experiences in West Bengal. As a reader, one may locate a geometric similarity between The Bengalis: A Portrait of a Community and The Baptism of Tony Calangute. The latter is infused with the life and human experiences of Goa, also, mentioned in the book as Aparanta. The term aparanta means the western border. Another significance of the term Aparanta is that Chakravarti had published the same book under a title Once Upon A Time in Aparanta through Penguin Books. According to Chakravarti, the title, Once Upon A Time in Aparanta wasn’t evocative enough, “but my publisher at the time [Penguin Books] appeared to think it suitably mysterious” (185).
The “Acknowledgment” part of the book offers a glimpse into the journey of a book in modern times within the politically charged space of the publishing industry. One may well read into the scenario the significant authoritarianism exerted by mainstream trade publishing and the way an author attempts to surpass the world of mitigated authenticity. He is also seen apologizing to his readers for withdrawing the book from circulation after the less authentic rendering of the book by the previous publisher. “[T]he book journeyed from its first home with what I took to be shabby understanding and care in reaching it to readers,” (185) he says. “It drove me in desperation to withdraw the book from circulation, despite the dedicated following and appreciation it had gathered” (185). Aleph Book Company is an independent publisher. The politics of the germination of independent entities in book publishing is the seed of similar ‘injustices’ evident in the ‘desperation’ felt by the author at how miserably the book was presented to its readers.
The Baptism of Tony Calangute is not a lengthy work. Its complex plot and authentic characterization make the book a highly effective read and a well-crafted novel. In my view, any reader who enters the world of Tony Calangute, the protagonist, the proprietor of Happy Bar, finds himself/herself in the same situation as one of the characters in the book. This situation is not regarding the experience of the novel but is regarding the landscape of the novel. The character that I am referring to is Antonio. There is a scene in the second chapter of the novel where he looks into his house. “[T]he doorway showcasing diminishing frames as they receded through the length of the structure, each successive door wearing an elaborate hat, one of coloured glass, another of curls of wood. The hand-printed azulejos on the walls of the sala depicting once-grand places of Portuguese Europe and the Orient-Lisbon, Macau, Goa-shone, the crystal glasses for port and liqueur and bone-china teacups in the cupboards looked as new as the day Carmen had brought them to Casa Serena as a bride” (10). Similar to the unfolding of every scene in the room as Antonio observes, every character and every experience flows into the reader’s consciousness through a lyrical prose.
The prose of Sudeep Chakravarti is deep and evocative of the nostalgia of the people of Goa. The visual labyrinths of the colonial-era influence and the audible presence of indigenous authenticity amalgamate in The Baptism of Tony Calangute. In between these two experiences, Tony and Dino try to preserve what they can of the Goa of their hearts. Winston Almeida represents the present-day land-capital mafia that encroaches into every landscape. The novel attempts to preserve a paradise within its symbolic landscape through the memories of the people that is unapproachable to those like Almeida and Sergei Yurlov and Fernandes. If you want me to summarize this book in one sentence, I would say this is a book on Goa, life in Goa, and the people of Goa. Sudeep Chakravarti reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The Baptism of Tony Calangute is published by Aleph Book Company. The cover designer of the book had done a commendable job. In the recent Indian writings in English, I haven’t come across such an evocative cover page. The whole book is packed with elegant designing strategies. The design of the cover is Bena Sareen. I learnt it from the author’s acknowledgements rather than the back cover of the book, where it’s also given who designed the cover and who took the photo for the cover, etc. I have seen some people leave the acknowledgement page unread. But I found that in this book, every single page is a pleasure to read, even the edition notice or copyright page.
The Baptism of Tony Calangute is, apparently, designed for reading in an academic environment, especially in the comfortable locale of a university library with reading glasses on. The font size is too small. In the bright environment of the library, this wouldn’t be a problem. But if one is reading while travelling by train or bus, or reading in a hurry, the small font size would hurt one’s eyes. Priced in INR 299, The Baptism of Tony Calangute is the best book released in the first six months of 2018. There is a high probability, that this would remain so for the rest of the year. This book is for those who want to experience the pleasure of reading a slowly paced novel capable of transporting one to the intimate secrets of an exotic landscape.
Author(s): Sudeep Chakravarti
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Release: April 2018
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