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Small Town, Big Heart

Small Town, Big Heart

The book is about the adrenaline rush of humdrum survival eked out within the casually chaotic, blood-drenched mobocracy of today's India.

On the very first page of Amitava Kumar’s Home Products, there’s a scene which exemplifies what I liked so much about this first novel. An elderly woman opens her front door to the protagonist, a journalist called Binod. As she did so, she "began to cover her head with her cotton sari when Binod introduced himself". It is a gesture so slight and so familiar that it might easily go unnoticed. Yet by noticing it, Kumar instantly conveys so many messages about the relative positions of the two characters: that the woman is conservative and middle-class, that the young man is a stranger to her and that she is uneasy but not afraid by his presence at her door. It’s a fragment of visual poetry which, like the best documentary films, allows us to forget the camera, lights and sound recordist, so that we enter the situation unaware of the craft that has brought us there.

The narrative shifts back and forth between small-town Bihar and the big city—specifically Bombay-Delhi. Binod is the main actor in this drama, but three members of his family share the stage with him: his father Baba, his father’s sister-turned-politician Bua, and Bua’s son, the colourful jailbird Rabinder. The cousin spends much of the novel’s pages behind bars, yet dominates the story with his larger-than-life presence. He is more passionate, more vital and ultimately more successful than Binod. But this book isn’t about cousin rivalry, sizzling romance, dazzling success or terrifying despair. It’s about the adrenaline rush of humdrum survival eked out within the casually chaotic, blood-drenched mobocracy of today’s India.

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