The statement is, in a sense, key to helping us understand the aim of this, her new collection of tales. In the same character’s words: “When I am on Juhu Beach I remember Beach Boy (acclaimed novel by Ardashir Vakil), when I say ‘chawl’ I remember (Kiran Nagarkar’s) Ravan and Eddie, when I think ‘dance bar’ I remember (Suketu Mehta’s) Maximum City....”
Chattarji’s stories continue this tradition, of attempting to commit to memory the essence of a city. She does a great job of it too, bringing the keen eye of a poet and particular talent as a translator to bear on her muse, Bombay. One can almost picture her sitting quietly at a crowded corner, chronicling personal histories as millions get on with their daily business of living.
In the story Insect Boy, her unnamed protagonist lives in his own little world outside Colaba’s Cafe Mondegar. In Madam, Photo?, the tour guide Sreya explores issues of identity similar to those Chattarji often grapples with in her poems. In Which One?, the late historian Sharada Dwivedi’s book Bombay: The Cities Within finds resonance in the life of Bhaskar, who lives in a one BHK at Goregaon. Fabulous new worlds are explored here too, be it in the form of an apocalyptic vision that informs The Birds Are Everywhere or the idea of parasols living in a parallel universe in The Lost Umbrellas of Udipi.
One of her protagonists writes of wanting to decipher the city that is “photographic, obsessive, bursting with people, streets, names, voices, visions.” Chattarji does the job well, creating in the process a worthy addition to the body of work inspired by the place we love and hate to call home.
— Dirty Love, Sampurna Chattarji, Penguin, Rs 299. Available at leading bookstores.