Wednesday, 24 October 2012
Book Review: A Song For I, by Chandrima Pal
A Song For I is a musical extravaganza wrapped in pink. Written by young (but very experienced) journalist Chandrima Pal, A Song for I is the story of Ira, a young and pretty girl born to Himadri Shekhar, a sitar maestro and his pretty wife Kamalini, who died soon after Ira was born. Himadri had wanted a son pretty badly and after Ira’s birth and Kamalini’s death, Himadri runs off. Ira is brought up in Muchipada, apparently the last surviving village in Kolkata, by her aunt Mrinalini, who hates Himadri with a vengeance, and her grandparents.
When Ira comes of age, the story takes a sudden Bollywoodish twist and Ira expresses a wish to meet her father, a wish which is granted by Himadri, who by then lives in Mumbai. Father and daughter get along reasonably well, though Ira is not as keen on playing the sitar as Himadri would have liked and her musical training seems to have been far below Himadri’s expectations. When Ira meets Vishnu who sings, plays the guitar, and occasionally takes drugs, and falls in love with him, we expect to see her get into a fight with her sitar playing father. Nothing of that sort happens, though Vishnu manages to persuade Ira to try LSD. Ira seems to have the rare talent to mix Indian and Western music and ethos seamlessly and enjoy them both. Soon we see Ira and Himadri making a joint appearance on stage at a music festival and any resemblance to a Bollywood tear-jerker comes to an end. No, I’m not going to divulge any more. Please read this beautiful novel to find out.
Author Chandrima Pal comes from a musical family. Her website tells us that “her father Pandit Barun Kumar Pal, a noted Indian classical musician who has been the force behind the Ravi Shankar Centre in New Delhi, is a disciple of the sitar maestro. Her grandfather gave Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia his first All India Radio gig. Her uncle toured with George Harrison and played with everyone from S D Burman to Kalyanji Anandji. New generation sitar virtuoso Niladri Kumar is her first cousin.” Chandrima’s exceptional knowledge of and love for music is reflected in almost every page of this novel, which is littered with snippets of musical lore and trivia, a treat in itself.
One of the exceptional things about A Song For I is the way it bridges various divides. The chasm between traditional Indian music played by Himadri and the pop music played by Vishnu and his gang is effortlessly plugged by Ira. Chandrima Pal is as much at home while describing Muchipada and the folks who live there, as she is in describing Mumbai or Paris. Just as the author’s depiction of Ira, Vishnu and their friends conveys their youthful gusto and verve, her portrayal of Ira grandparents and father carries an antique stamp of authenticity. Chandrima Pal easily holds her readers’ attention till the end, when many family secrets come tumbling out.
A Song For I has been published by Amaryllis, which recently brought out my second novel, When the Snow Melts. Its MRP is Rs. 495, but you can buy it for a lot less from Flipkart and Infibeam.