Book Review: An Evening in Calcutta
KA Abbas (1914-1987) belonged to a tribe of creative versatility
KA Abbas (1914-1987) belonged to a tribe of creative versatility. He eased into the world of journalism, fiction writing in multiple languages and filmmaking and left his imprints, for generations to cherish. Abbas published 73 books in English, Urdu and Hindi, including an autobiography, I Am Not An Island. The collection of short stories, An Evening in Calcutta, is edited by poet and translator Suresh Kohli with an introduction and an interview with Abbas, which was published in The Patriot in 1982.
An Evening in Calcutta, KA Abbas, edited by Suresh Kohli, Harper Collins, R299. Available at leading bookstores and eStores
In his introduction, Kohli mentions that Abbas was often criticised for being too simple in his fiction and “mere journalese” and Abbas never denied that saying that he was probably only a journalist masquerading as a fiction writer.
Reading, Evening in Calcutta, one cannot deny that the prose is not very well crafted. There are no sentences or meditations that stand out with profundity or truth, the way finer fiction often does. But even in retelling of events in history in a swift and clipped voice, Abbas leaves with you something that is beyond tangible, something beyond craft.
Saffron blossoms, the story that is based on the earliest uprisings in Kashmir after Independence goes beyond the debates and hammers in the context from a human angle. Reflection in mirror is another poignant
story from this collection, which takes on the phoney rich liberals. In this story, about a foreign educated Raja and his mistress, the man keeps explaining the futility of marriage citing liberal values to his mistress who eventually sees beyond the facade.
Abbas was also from the period when the creative soul breathed its dreams of freedom in a socialist hope. This comes across in most of the stories and most of all in the title story, An Evening in Calcutta. This story, though the title, is one of the weakest in the collection and is about meditations on life and work of a journalist and a suspicion of the wealthy that marked the post-independence thought. Not that other writers or writers now love the rich but his tools and mode of criticism are predictable and even though written many decades ago seem to be following a trend instead of making an original observation. With all of this, the book is a delight for its glimpse into the world of his time, its language, mores and emotions.