Book Review: ‘Rajkonya’ By Prachet Gupta

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Storytelling is an art and not all people are capable of it. Storytelling in written form is another art and not all people are capable of it either. No, I am not talking about writing skills, composition, crafting clever sentences or ideas. Instead, even if you possess all the skills and talents, you may not be able to tell a compelling story in a convincing way. Yes, it demands enormous craftmanship to catch the attention of the readers within first few sentences and then hold it long enough so that they would sit back and let the writer make an attempt to entertain them. This is even more important in the present age of instant gratification and limited attention span. But what if you are bestowed with great talent of pen and imagination to yarn a story, are able to arouse the interest of the reader not just for the first few sentences instead for the first couple of paragraphs, and in fact are able to entertain and keep them amused for the first few pages, and yet fail to make use of that opportunity and lose the interest of the reader as fast as it was aroused. Such is the case with the novel Rajkonya (Bengali) by Prachet Gupta.

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Gupta has a humourous or rather amusing way of writing, and small pieces of wit and humour are scattered throughout this novel. Even contemplative, philosophical and emotional moments are depicted with adroitness. As a reader I was deeply impressed, and started shouting — ‘Wow! This is what an ideal work of fiction should look like! This is what I was looking for as my daily dose of pleasure reading’. But then it didn’t take long for the clouds of disappointment to cover the pleasant sunshine. Gupta is confused — terribly confused — with his narrative and it doesn’t take you long to recognise it. He switches to different narratives one after other, and switches not only between them but also takes you to and fro in past and present. He does it so many times and in such chaotic, irregular way that you certainly feel annoyed. At times, he leaves a particular scene in the middle to narrate another event from the past, sometimes flying off to yet another sequence, then returns to the present scene, only to fly off to another event in the past. I will try to share with you the basic outline of the novel and mention few sequences. Beware of any confused description in the following paragraphs because I admit I myself am confused.

The primary plot is of the protagonist and narrator Sagar, an unemployed, carefree and careless young man, who neither earned a living nor even tried to find a job. He survived by borrowing money from his friend Tamal and whatever little money his mother sent from their village home — without the knowledge or permission of his father. Sagar possessed suitable amount of wit and humour, which was reflected in all his interactions, dialogues and contemplative thoughts. It is these humorous sentences which entertain the readers and pull them into the story. Tamal arranged a job for Sagar with Urmimala, the niece of a politician. It was not a proper job per se, instead just a one-time assignment which Sagar had to accomplish. It is the description of this assignment which I failed to understand fully in spite of reading it over and over again. Urmimala was in love with Sudeep, a young and intelligent man. He was highly educated and wanted to teach in a village school. He was idealist by nature, believed in merit and wanted to get a job by own effort. Finding employment for Sudeep was a left hand job for Urmimala owing to her influential uncle; however, Sudeep did not consent to this. I don’t understand what was the problem. If Sudeep wanted to struggle and win his job, what was the problem? Let him do so. Of course, if he was as intelligent and educated as is mentioned in the story, he would have found a job sooner or later. I agree, it is not so easy and several other factors do play a role in finding a job, but still at least he should have been allowed to struggle the way he liked. If he failed and there was no way out for him, then she could have offered her help, or rather the help of her influential connection. But the fact that Sudeep had refused to take job by such means hurt Urmimala’s ego really hard and she wanted to teach him a lesson. Her plan was as follows. There was a job interview of teacher at a village school where Sudeep was supposed to appear. Urmimala decided to use her influence to get the job for Sudeep. As Sudeep would not consent to take this favour, she was looking for a person who would act as proxy, appear at the interview and hand over the note from her uncle to the interview board members. You don’t need me to tell you what the contents of the note were. When Sudeep was selected and offered the position, Urmimala would disclose that it was only her influence which had secured Sudeep the job, thus taking her revenge. My doubt is, did Sudeep receive or did not receive the interview letter? Or even before that, did he actually apply for the aforementioned position in the first place? If he had received the invitation to appear at the interview, wouldn’t he also appear in person before the interview board? And if he had not, then wouldn’t he get suspicious when he received the final offer — ‘How come they make this offer when I hadn’t even appeared at the interview?’ I thought and examined hard, but could not understand the logic. Anyway, Sagar turned up at the school office, where he found another candidate for the interview, who was an ordinary but hard working young man who had already appeared at several job interviews unsuccessfully. Incidentally, this person Shubhradeep did know that Sudeep (proxy by Sagar) would be selected because of his high-profile-connections. Still, he was appearing for the interview as he had become used to such corrupt practices. Their brief conversation touched Sagar, who decided not to face the interview and handed over the note to Shubhradeep. In the remainder of the sequence, Sagar talked over the matter with Urmimala and persuaded her to patch up with Sudeep.

There are intermittent and trivial sequences in the novel, none of which bear any impact or relevance to the main story. There is Santosh who had recently found job as a salesperson with a credit card company (bank), which was distributing credit cards for the unemployed and beggars! There is Bipadtadua Mama (Troubleshooter uncle), a pickpocket who purportedly had a solution to all problems. There is Bula, Sagar’s student studying in 8th standard, who was excited with magic and wanted to learn few tricks with Sagar’s help. There is Chakhu, a young boy working at a small restaurant as a cleaner, and it was he who had introduced Sagar with Troubleshooter uncle. Chakhu used to bring messages and letters for Sagar, who did not have a telephone/mobile phone. There is Dhurjatibabu, a publisher at whose firm Sagar used to work as a proofreader. Thus Sagar is not completely unemployed as such, instead earns some money through proofreading and editing, and giving tuition to young children. There are Samar and Ajanta who ask Sagar to babysit their relative Ira’s son Turki. Sagar introduces Turki to Bengali street games (marble balls, gilli-danda, kite-flying and so on) to much displeasure of Turki’s parents.

The novel is made up of several scattered and unconnected stories. Sagar’s witty statements though entertaining initially, turn out to be irritating later on. His contemplative, philosophical and emotional outbursts are annoying from the very beginning. All these scenes are unbearably long and test your patience to the extreme.

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