Bookish Witch

The Chronicler of the Hooghly by Shakti Ghosal

Book blurb:

Emotionally gripping, historical and psychological page-turner! A superlative debut classic.

Four crucible stories woven together. A heart wrenching tale of a migrant family, a mother and a ‘different’ child in Delhi in the backdrop of a nation on the brink, of dislocation and transition. The eeriness of similarity in the way the two pandemics a century apart (1919 and 2020), show up for the protagonists, linked as they are across four generations through a dilapidated palace and its massive Shiva Linga. The almost surreal Karmic turn when romance, deception and selfishness lead to life changing consequences. A thrilling saga of a mystical pearl necklace which spins history and myth addictively across different dimensions. Across time as it takes the reader on a two and a half centuries journey. Across human failings and virtues of political intrigue, greed, betrayal, love and magnanimity.

Genre: Fiction/Short stories

Pages: 190

Format: Kindle eBook/Paperback

Price:

  • Kindle eBook: 65 INR/$1.30
  • Paperback: 245 INR/$7.92

My Ratings: 4.6/5

Consisting of 4 short stories (Ashtami, Pandemic, Fault Lines, and The Chronicler of Hooghly) that span across cross generations, this book is a thought-provoking, enlightening as well as knowledgeable read.

Book cover taken from Amazon

What I liked about the book:
-> All the stories compare a time in India (especially Kolkata) from pre-independence vs now, making us ponder whether things have really changed and also highlighting the fact that ‘the past repeats itself’ and some actions/decisions have their impacts resonated through ages.
-> The writing style doesn’t always paint a pretty or desolate picture, but in fact, manages to preserve the beauty of simple simplicity by interlinking the heritage of Kolkata with commonality. Though the colours are a bit subdued and faded, but they carry lineage and ancestry.
-> The detailing in the naming and descriptions of places especially in The Fault Lines that made me aware of Oman and its many popular historical spots and restaurants.
-> The most striking feature of the book is how the author has let his creativity rewrite history. It comes out especially well in “The Chronicler of the Hooghly” where the paths have been intertwined with well-known historical figures of Bengal.
-> The writing is simple and yet holds the capacity to make a reader fall in love with old Calcutta making them curious about the city’s past.
-> The stories are thought-provoking and represent various human nature/emotions like greed, sadness, anger but the most applaud-worthy part about the actions in each story is how they bring home the message of karmic ends.
-> The distinct messages and takeaways from each story:
a) In Ashtami, our aversion as humans to differently-abled individuals.
b) In Pandemic, the comparison between 1920 pandemic and 2020 pandemic. Also, how the lockdown brought us closer to our families.
c) In Fault Lines, the karmic endings of our actions over time.
d) In The Chronicler of Hooghly, how certain actions have their impacts felt over generations.

What I did not like about the book:
->
Certain bits in some stories did not make much sense, as to why they were part of the story.
-> In The Chronicler of Hooghly, the to and from between the past and present was a little complex to follow at times.

Quotable quotes:
> Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, proclaimed, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” What followed was something quite the contrary. Rather than awakening to life, people were witness to bloodshed, killings, rape and pillage. Rather than waking up to freedom to live where they chose to, people were being forced to leave behind everything they possessed and cross a newly created artificial border, homeless and penniless.
-> A moan that carried with it the realisation that friendship and harmony had lost out to
communal mindset and greed.
-> Time passed and brought a change, as it inevitably does.
-> Burden is such an interesting word. A word loaded with different meanings allowing the user to at once demean the other person and highlight one’s own inability towards taking responsibility.
-> Just like we do not change even when we replace our old garments with new, so does the soul remain unchanged as it discards its worn-out body and takes birth in a new one.
-> Each one of us has come into this world with our own destiny.

> Tragedies happen to good people to make them stronger.
-> A lack of confidence in one’s spouse means fundamentally weak relationship between the partners.

-> The pandemic had raised the question of which came first, life or livelihood.
-> We must all learn for look for mental compatibility and not be carried away by first impressions.
-> The mind, that eternal preserver, is ever ready to throw up justifications for one’s thoughts and actions in the moment.
-> The irony of the pandemic was that while it created the opportunity for couples to come together in a physical sense, it also brought forth situations that were driving them apart.
-> “Birthdays are such selfish pursuits, aren’t they?” continued Savio in a voice that seemed to be floating all around. “It’s like a fake person inside us, who basks in glory for a day, swelling in self-importance as his near and dear ones wish him happy birthday. “We try to hide our inherent selfishness under a veneer of put-up humility. We play down our looks, our possessions, our education and so on when it suits us. The only time we get to unabashedly flaunt ourselves is on our birthday. We wear our best dress; we indulge ourselves and happily accept presents.”

> Friendship does not always go by background.
-> True love and understanding mean openness in a relationship, not possessiveness.
-> A lesser person is always aware of his own smallness
.
-> For dust we are and to dust we shall return.
-> It takes greater strength to give up what you love than to hold on to it.
-> In life, major incidents that happen in an instant take time to register.
-> He looked at the sun in the western sky, the morphing shades of the flowing waters and could not help but marvel at how nature was yet managing to shine its beauty on an environment gone increasingly awry.
-> The threads of history are complex and interwoven. It is like a rich tapestry designed for a purpose. A purpose that remains unknown.

-> “We are an interesting and strange society, are we not? We are willing to take help and money from a Shudra and when we do, we justify saying she is rich and respected. But we cannot allow the same person to offer food to the Goddess. Even the poor would rather starve than partake of such Prasad.”
-> In spite of our huge medical advancements, we just do not know the answers to why and when a stroke happens. Guess it is dictated by something beyond Science.

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Author’s social media links:

4 thoughts on “The Chronicler of the Hooghly by Shakti Ghosal”

  1. The book sounds interesting in your review and definitely worth a try. Being a Calcuttan myself, will definitely relate to the stories with the reality that we go through in our daily lives in this great city. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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