The novel’s premise is appetizing enough. A trio of school friends grows up during the post-independence ’50s in a somewhat seedy but vital upper-middle-class Calcutta neighbourhood. Anniruddha (Rude) is a Bengali Hindu with successful professional parents; Allan Carpenter is an Anglo-Indian who scorns his family; and Nina Bharucha, the object of both their desires, is an upwardly mobile Parsee. Later, in college, the trio becomes embroiled in the Calcutta version of the radical left-wing student activism of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Allan then returns to academic life and Nina emigrates to the U.S., but Rude’s activist involvement deepens, culminating in his assassination by anti-terrorist Assistant Commissioner Parmal Shome, who harbours a deeply personal class hatred for Rude. Shome steals Rude’s diary during a 1970 raid of Rude’s home.
Years later, and half a world away, Allan and Nina conduct parallel searches, for themselves as well as for Rude’s chronicle. Allan mourns the lost purpose in his life that their political activism had once provided – and he still lusts after Nina. She relentlessly pursues the brutal Shome to recover Rude’s diary, ostensibly to “fulfill a desire to attain righteousness” but really to seek affirmation of her and Rude’s largely unfulfilled relationship. As Allan withers away in cold and gritty Montreal, Nina finally catches up with Shome in oddly featureless Houston and exacts her revenge.
Such a story should have worked, but Bose’s inadequacies as a writer reduce the novel to a near-travesty. His clunking expressions and frequent howlers make caricatures of the characters on whom the novel focuses. Who can take seriously Nina’s emotional turmoil when her “anger raced around her head like a pinball machine” or when she “helped him back up and put her cheeks directly in front of him”? Who can think credible Allan’s lifelong hunger for Nina when he first knew her as “Nina Bharucha with the flourishing breasts and the zits, now topped off with pox…” and when, at the thought of her, his “jaws dropped inside his mouth”? Who can be sympathetic to the villain Shome’s final throes when we must picture his “Bushy eyebrows [that] cast a dark pall over his receding headscape”? Only Rude escapes risibility, and only because he is dead. In fleshing out Rude through his diary entries, and in making the diary a Grail, Bose does do something right. Other good things occur in the novel’s opening exposition: Rude vividly depicts his childhood and neighbourhood; there is a fine set-piece on a disastrous visit by a family mentor.
However, none of these flashes can compensate for the novel’s deficiencies. Where was the editorial vigilance that should have suggested variations in style between two different diarists and a third-person narrator; pruned the chunks of clichéd political rhetoric; remedied the bad grammar and tortured syntax; corrected the typos (“dissappeared”; “unnoticable”) and checked facts (Bessie Smith, not Billie Holiday, died in the infamous car crash)?
Sadly, Recovering Rude is beyond salvation. mRb