May 31, 2020
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Quasimodo Now

From the first page, this is a triumph of storytelling in what Chandrahas Choudhury chooses to reveal, and at what precise pace.

Quasimodo Now
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Arzee The Dwarf
By Chandrahas Choudhury
HarperCollins | 184 pages | Rs 325

From the first page, this is a triumph of storytelling in what Chandrahas Choudhury chooses to reveal, and at what precise pace. More importantly, given the protagonist’s evident handicap—physical and consequently emotional—Chandrahas manages to steer firmly clear from portraying any of the over-obvious indignities and humiliations that could well have found their way into the story of a poorish dwarf in a run-down cinema hall. Chandrahas also uses his great felicity with imagery and language with restraint and discernment.

The dwarf’s world can be that much meaner and that much more vulnerable than most of ours are. And yet his story quickly establishes itself as the story of anyone who has at any time been foreshortened, abridged by his circumstances. Arzee’s struggle and his pain, his options and his lack of options, are so universal that the reader can’t stay outside for too long and say, “Ah, poor little fellow.” It becomes, “Ah, poor us all”, dwarfed so often by the large, looming, and mostly arbitrary happenings of our lives.

When Arzee’s life unspools, the writer gently lets him fall apart, and holds back, like any good storyteller would. Only when the wailing and flailing stops, and Arzee encounters himself fully, minus any of the filters of fantasy, bravado or bitterness, does the writer seem to lovingly help him put it all back together again.

To quote examples of any of the lyrical, funny or luminous images from this book would be to spoil them for the potential reader. The intriguing cover (designed by Pinaki De) of this slim, well-produced book makes a good thing even better.

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