Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Calcutta Chromosome

     Intriguing title, and a pretty fish on the cover made me pick this book from a second hand shop from Moore market in March. Story starts slowly at a unknown future date, but steady enough to look for what is coming next.? Antar, a data scientist of sorts discovers L.Murugan's notes refuting Sir Ronald Ross's brilliance.

Who's Ronald Ross?

   Sir Ronald Ross  (13 May 1857 – 16 September 1932) was a British doctor who received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1902 for his work on malaria. He discovered that malaria was transmitted through mosquitoes, and this discovery led to the ways of finding cure to Malaria.

    From the unknown future date, the story goes back to the end of twentieth century, enter Prof.L.Murugan, and the momentum pick-ups like an express train. The brashness, the wit, and the expletive laden dialogues of Prof.L Murugan gradually grow on the reader. I wanted to know more about why Prof.Murugan is ready to give his life and leave a cushy job to go to Calcutta. L.Murugan comes with a theory of an Indian hand in Sir Ronald Ross's discovery of malaria parasite. Who are those people? Why are they hiding behind Ronald? Ronald is just a tool, but who wields the tool?

   Murugan meets Urmila and Sonali at an award ceremony of a famous fictional Bengali writers in Calcutta. The two beautiful sari clad women, Urmila and Sonali are an integral part of the story, they are vivid, may be the vividness has lot more to do with my exposure to modern cinema than the authors caliber. And then the story goes to a narrative from the late 1890's, describing the time when Sir Ronald Ross came across malaria for the first time, his extraordinary Indian helper, and his insufficient knowledge about malaria. Pulling of three different times in a short book is not a mean task, but Amitav has done that with supreme clarity.

What I didn't like?

 Things I did n’t like has more to do with technical aspects than the plot or character development. The usage of  “suddenly” as a tool to bring twists in the narrative is never easy to carry along, especially if the author has a tendency to use it too often. It stands out, and makes the flow of story artificial. Of course fiction is made up of coincidences, but the charm of a good book is to paint a realistic tone to the coincidences.

   Instances of building climatic hype too often can fall flat at time, Amitav rises the hype too high, just to burst it in the end like a prick to a balloon. I felt like a fool for believing in the tension. Unless there is a very strong reason, it is never a good ploy to raise the tempo too high.

  May be it is a style thing, or a personal preference, I never liked too much of semicolons and colons- standing in the way of the rhythm of the words on the page. It is like humps on a road already filled with potholes. Far too many distractions in that aspect.

 In the end, The Calcutta chromosome falls into too many categories; thriller, science fiction, medical mystery, colonial history- a genre defying book. A decent read.


Libu said...

Succint review. And usage of "suddenly" in a narrative,makes you think of Hardy Boys :)

Nijil Chandran said...

Yes Libu, 'Suddenly' is a big put-off in an otherwise intelligent story...