The Man Who Would Not See by Rajorshi Chakraborti
Updated: Jul 1, 2018
Rajorshi Chakraborti’s latest book (his fifth) manages to straddle the contrasting contemporary lives of two brothers whose worlds were torn apart thirty years before by a childish mistake.
It is impossible not to hear the narrator’s almost breathless voice as he dips between the fateful night of his childhood in Calcutta and the present time in Wellington. Offsetting Abhay’s recollections, and his feelings as an immigrant, are those of the second narrator, his wife Lena.
For Lena cultural differences take a second place to the frustrations and concerns she has for her family when her husband’s long-estranged brother Ashim visits. The husband and wife share their different interpretations of the visit as it unfolds and the back story of childhood estrangement, past wrongs and hidden resentments - typical of any family - begin to surface.
As they attempt to reconcile their different lives, the reader is invited to enjoy technicolour vignettes of Ashim’s life in India, and Abhay’s life in Wellington. The glaring differences of the chaos of Calcutta with the privilege of Wellington and a Kiwi Christmas are vividly explored.
All is laid bare against the indelible bonds of boyhood and the shared pain of remaining an outsider – even when one is apparently ‘at home’. In this way Chakraborti reminds us that casual racism is everywhere. Along the way, the brothers share jibes, jealousies and rampant misunderstandings. As fractured fraternal bonds are mended, Abhay’s marriage threatens to disintegrate.
It seems that this was – after all - what his brother had hoped to achieve. But is everything as it appears? The New Zealand reader will be swept along to the end of this great yarn, enjoying both fond glimpses of Indian life, together with the familiar landmarks of a loved homeland.
It was charming to recognise, appreciate - and above all be grateful for - a life that is essentially and delightfully Kiwi seen through Indian eyes.
Reviewer: Peta Stavelli
Penguin NZ, RRP $38