At one time, it almost seemed that authors had to leave India in order to write about it. With distance comes perspective, the theory goes. Or maybe there’s just more space to think in leafy Massachusetts than in India’s teeming ‘metros’. Either way, the list of Indian émigré writers is a long one, from Rohinton Mistry and Anita Desai to Amit Chaudhuri and Vikram Seth. But now a new generation of non-resident Indians are packing their bags and heading back. Why?
Kushanava Choudhury offers several reasons: a desire to make a difference and a compulsion to revisit his past. (Dare I suggest another reason, a contract to write a book?) Certainly, returning to Calcutta (as it was still officially known when he left at the age of almost twelve) was not the obvious choice for Choudhury. After an adolescence in New Jersey and a stint at Princeton, he decided to take a job as a reporter at The Statesman, Calcutta’s prestigious but ailing newspaper, before returning to the USA to continue his education.
The Epic City is part urban biography, part personal history. It recounts a year that Choudhury spent in the former capital of the British Raj, spliced with memories of childhood and his time as a reporter. He travelled with his wife, who hated the place. His subsequent trips