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  • Baron Birtcher
  • Howard Owen
  • Kathleen Novak
  • Erik Mauritzson
  • Jeffrey B. Burton
  • E.L. Carter
  • David Freed
  • Kaushik Barua
  • Chris Knopf

           

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No Direction Rome by Kaushik Barua

Available November!

There is a certain allure in a young man loitering aimlessly – the figure tracing back to Hamsun’s narrator in Hunger, and to the French tradition of the flaneur. The streets are a place of new discoveries. Everything is at once at scrutiny. Something is in the making, you’d think. Only that Kaushik Barua’s Krantik would apply a spin to it. He walks through the city of Rome at night, peculiarly asking strangers for addresses he already knows. He tells you that his fiancé has attempted suicide and wonders whether it has anything to do with him. That is the only thread of dramatic conflict you’d find in his life, quite neutralized before the narrative begins. He continues asking addresses to strangers. There appears to be some thrill in the possibility of conversation, more so with a girl. Krantik positively sleepwalks through his days, doesn’t pass judgements, and merely observes, holding onto a vague idea of self-control. Humour, droll and detached, keeps him amused. His name is a pun on the Hindi word Kranti, meaning revolution, but his inaction is jarring and makes up for a crisp, captivating first-person monologue, which is about . . . well, everything and nothing. Here is a short novel that is designed to digress.

Because he keeps things at surface level and doesn't allow us to deep dive in his psyche, the reader must rely on the pop-info references he makes use of, and it seems that without these references it would be difficult to understand Krantik. He is the post-internet guy. He observes his mucus and worries about having cancer. The hypochondria is not the only side effect of uncontrolled, unchecked information he appears to be loaded with. It is as if a spiritual core is missing. It is as if no amount of shopping or googling would make him realize what he truly wants. There is a hole he keeps filling with more information every day, like all of us. Krantik knows this and is in a way leading a post-awareness life. The result is that there is an indifference towards everything. So that when he talks about chakras, or Buddhism, or being like a Dalai Lama around Mom, there is a bit of mockery involved. But because he keeps mentioning them again and again, one would feel that he is in a spiritual desert. In a foreign city away from the middle-class Indian life that shaped him, he could easily step out of the solidified faith of his parents, but found only cynicism to hold onto. He describes football as “a spectacle brought to you by the monster advertising industry that endows superficial meaning to the sight of twenty-two men chasing a piece of leather.” You’ve read too much post-modern analysis to enjoy anything anymore, is what he hears back from a friend.

His routine is interrupted by thoughts of the fiancé; his step-brother calls him and lectures about standing up for the family and all. Krantik gets done with it the way one gets done with a business call, with make-believe submissiveness. There is pain for sure, even anger. In the cool flatline of the narration there are amusing spikes when Krantik blasts her in his thoughts, calling her “pull-out-last-minute Pooja”. It gives you a glimpse inside his heart, albeit a rare one. He doesn’t dwell much on the fiancé’s decision to end her life, or doesn’t tell us. The “not telling” is an important thematic concern here. The nature of Krantik’s pain and what he thinks about it are immaterial in a way. What is important is that he saunters on, in a plot-less universe, making a statement on our hedonist, unexamined lives. While on a short trip to India, he taps on his mom's shoulder instead of hugging her before leaving. Because there was luggage between them and he didn’t want to bother. It works in a strange funny way. The acquired hard-boiled attitude! You’d feel the novel is more about it than anything else. Then midway through the narrative, Krantik comes across a nun in a bus, wearing a “Christian-hijab”, and as is his wont he cooks up an anecdote for her:

As a kid, she’d watch her father go out to sea, wait till he came back with lobsters, pincers tied but stupid eyes always open. You made it back? Yes, Saint Michael was kind. Who’s Saint Michael? Protector of the seas. Then why doesn’t he give you more fish? Because there’s only one man who could multiply fish. Who’s that: Felix who works at the factory? No, Jesus Christ. She didn’t get it, so she went to pick up shells and kill those worms that burrow into the sand with Pedro, who told her he had a worm in his pants as well. And now when she remembers that morning, she crosses herself and does the Hail Mary twenty times.

I was tempted to share it in its entirety. It is one of the many fictitious scenarios, Krantik being a good people-watcher, that bares a tenderness he tries so hard to shield.

The prose is effortlessly smooth and achieves a sort of lightness that is only possible with the lack of antagonism. Between the banter on doomsday and Van Damme’s involvement in the ensuing crisis control, or the imagined philosophizing by pet tortoises, or the nightmares induced by Netflix, or a momentary decision to purchase plastic furniture, there is a lull Krantik never tries to come out of; never tries to change. There are others with him in this lull. And it echoes all the time, keeping them busy. Any attempt to write about this lull might sound like one big joke. But the lull is real. And Krantik is a template for something. -The Lit Pub