“What a strange lot we Indians are, don’t you think?”
“I’ll confess, after years of study I’ve come to the same conclusion – only, now, I’m bored of such strangeness. We don’t actually want more freedom, as some people imagine we do. That would be so mundane. We’d rather have a world of piety and prohibition so we can preach morality to others – all the while trying to circumvent those very
— Conversation between Zahra and Farhad, Clouds by Chandrahas Choudhury
A surreal lapis lazuli hue of blue painting (Clouds for Hash by Golka Khandual and cover design by Saurav Das) on the cover draws you into the book, and it is only one of the things of beauty about the volume Clouds by Chandrahas Choudhury. This being his second novel, you can venture a guess that after the delightful Arzee the Dwarf from 2009, it’s been a long wait for the Choudhury watchers. His lyrical prose is a delight to read as much for it being a reflection of his charming philosophy on everything as for his unique, sensitive tone.
Set in Mumbai, the book boasts a light touch in the way it paints Mumbai in slight rosy tones that I find appealing as it is reminiscent of the pre-monsoon noon skies when all things look beautiful and are perched on the precipice of taking off from one place and getting to another. His familiarity with the suburbs of Mumbai does not attempt to hide a subtle love for them.
In the first tale, a 42-year-old Parsi psychotherapist, Dr Farhad Billmoria cannot wait for his impending migration to San Francisco, with little love lost for Mumbai, especially after his failed first marriage. His surprise meeting and infatuation with the radiant Zahra, herself a visitor from America, at this juncture seems wholly designed by fate (with a strong emphasis on the term ‘seems’), to make up for the boring life he has led thus far by offering a too-good-to-be-true promise of a happy and married lifetime. In a totally unbecoming aside, Farhad crosses paths and swords with Hemlata, a ‘South Indian’ feminist who has an acerbic tongue and is estranged from husband (with this two facts leading to each other in all probability), a complete foil to the angelic Zahra. And yet, as he keeps running into her, Farhad finds her oddly interesting and exciting.
In the parallel saga, aged and homesick Danua Brahmin Eeja has been forced to move to Mumbai from his beloved Odisha, with his wife Ooi and man Friday Rabi (who’s more importantly, the former village crier of the marginalised Cloud tribe from the Cloud Mountain), for medical reasons and he is unhappy with residing at the cheap flat in the fringe of Borivali for three years. It is worse that their noble son Bhagaban has to be away at Bhubaneswar, to fight the Company in its efforts to extract the valuable ore from Rabi’s native Cloud Mountain and ruining it for good, by winning the elections.
Rabi, the tribal protagonist, of this tale misses his mountain in a way that only sons of soil can, especially, when away from his Bhagaban dada and living with the latter’s cranky, caste-minded aged parents to serve them. Even when seemingly stuck in this tiny flat, the humble Rabi’s internal life is expansive and colourful like the folklore of his lands.
Even the city is not what it seems to be, a place of only enigmatic effervescence; the exhaustion in its wake is but the other face of the first reality. Each character realises the dual nature of their desires in the journey of this book and what they do with this knowledge forms the crux of this tale.
The world of this novel is seemingly innocent, but actually shimmeringly dual. On the whole, Clouds is a beautiful picture, and deceptively complex read, of realities shining in the light strained by clouds, where nothing is what it seems to be, but that may just be for the better. Don’t compare it with other books, especially the author’s classic first. I recommend that you explore the landscape on your own.