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Review: Calcutta Exile

The magnificence of all that Calcutta was is brought to life vividly and lyrically by Bunny Suraiya in Calcutta Exile. The novel’s theme is that of exile, centred around an Anglo-Indian family.

books Updated: Dec 23, 2011 16:39 IST

Calcutta Exile

Bunny Suraiya

harpercollins india

Rs. 299  pp 256

The magnificence of all that Calcutta was is brought to life vividly and lyrically by Bunny Suraiya in Calcutta Exile. The novel’s theme is that of exile, centred around an Anglo-Indian family.

The father Robert Ryan longs for a golden future in England where he feels he belongs. His disdain for the ‘natives’, especially his more successful colleague Ronen Mookerjee, isn’t shared by his beautiful wife Grace and his two spirited daughters. Grace is not averse to staying in India; and the girls become increasingly adamant that they will not leave — one because she has fallen in love with the aristocratic Karambir Singh, and another because she has found a job as a singer.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the book is when Robert inadvertently goes through his wife’s letters only to make a shocking discovery. Suraiya handles this with great delicacy and sensitivity. She brings to life the glory that was Calcutta with its clubs with sprung wooden dance floors, elegant eateries like Flury’s, and the city’s once gracious promenades.

It is in part a lament for a city she has left behind. As the book ends you are left with a yearning to know what will happen to the Ryans, to Ronen Mookerjee and his lost love. Maybe, Suraiya will come out with a sequel we can look forward to reading.