Bengal to Birmingham by Faizur Rasul - review by Anita Desai

Anita Desai

The Spice of Life

Bengal to Birmingham


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This surprising and delightful autobiography, discovered on a dusty shelf in the library, would have been extraordinary enough for its lively, robust and concrete prose (all qualities rarely found in English written by Indian novelists) but becomes even more so when one discovers it is the work of a Bengali Muslim who left school – the Victoria Memorial High School at Memari, a country town a few miles away from his village in the Burdwan district – at the age of fourteen to start earning his living. He did this in such an indiscriminate variety of ways as to make for a positively Rabelaisian recital which proved, in my case, such irresistible reading that on finishing it I wished for a second volume. Mr Rasul has not only the gift for living fully, an attractive enough feature , but also an unusual gift for infusing his prose with this quality.

The picaresque account of his search for a living follows him from his Bengal village, just barely set rippling by the flung stone of the Civil Disobedience movement, to New Market in Calcutta where he found work as a shop assistant. For a while he was enthralled by his view

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