The Immortals by Amit Chaudhuri - review by Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson

Bombay Raga

The Immortals


Picador 407pp £16.99

Despite (or perhaps because of) its exoticism, the world of Indian classical music has not been extensively mined in literature, especially in English. Indian novelists, such as Anita Desai, have touched on it, but have avoided making music the centre of attention. The few exceptions tend to prove the rule. Back in 1958, the intensely musical Satyajit Ray made a mesmerising film, The Music Room, based on a well-known Bengali short story about a feudal lord ruined by his obsession with classical music. The sitarist and composer Ravi Shankar wrote two significant autobiographies, My Music, My Life (1968) and Raga Mala (1997), which was edited by George Harrison. In 2007, an autobiography-cum-novel, The Music Room, by an Indian journalist, Namita Devidayal, who had trained as a classical singer in her early years but abandoned a professional career, excited readers in India, including the country’s culturally minded president. In each case, the music was made palatable to a Western audience by the vivid characters and famous personalities portrayed in the work.

Maybe it was the rave reviews of Devidayal’s book that encouraged Amit Chaudhuri to tackle a full-scale novel in English (liberally sprinkled with Hindi words) with Indian classical music centre-stage. He is certainly well qualified to bring it off, perhaps uniquely so. Besides being a prize-winning fiction writer

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RLF - March