"What is the deal with lifelong fidelity anyway?" muses Dev in Rajorshi Chakraborti's latest offering Balloonists. The thought pretty much sums up a plot that explores the new-age epidemic of the need to run from all things permanent. Trapped between a pregnant girlfriend and the spectre of parenthood looming large, Dev chooses to take flight. And the reason he gives himself is his longing for his ex-girlfriend Heidi.
So embarks Dev on his delusional pursuit of Heidi. He travels to Munich in search of her armed with nothing but her great grandmother Tante Moni's address. He visits her on the apparent pretext that he needs to meet Heidi to recover his old manuscripts (he earns his living as a writer). Although Tante directs him to her great-granddaughter, once Dev meets her, he's tongue-tied. Nothing of consequence transpires between the two.
Dev returns to London and curls up into his world doing little except for being angst-ridden and muttering, "I vant to be alone," in true Greta Garbo style. The plot thickens when Dev gets a call from Heidi's xenophobic mother blaming him for Heidi's sudden disappearance.
With a pregnant partner, and a missing ex-girlfriend Dev's life turns topsy-turvy. And the only person who can possibly help him trace Heidi's whereabouts is Rodrigo, the man she had dumped Dev for eight years ago. Thus begins an adventure — er, misadventure — with the two men vying for Heidi's attention, both equally desperate to have her back in their lives.
What follows is a predictable wild goose chase from leafy London, to Calcutta to Shillong with the two men bickering, cussing, baying for each other's blood. The narrative, which had gathered pace loses its sheen a bit too quickly, thanks to hackneyed turn of events. With an overly simplistic style, Balloonists reads like yet another of those ‘Indo-Anglian' novels, the ones that look different but have little to offer in way of substance or style.
The novel marks a detour from Chakraborti's two earlier works that were firmly rooted in a surrealistic landscape. Here, he tries to delve into the existential dilemmas that plague us. Chakraborti's attempts, however, come across as trite with the protagonist seizing every opportunity to
escape the realities without rendering enough thought or insight that is expected of him.
It's a novel that begins with promise but loses steam halfway through.