August 03, 2020
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Smoking Gun

Seduction without form, an enticing haze...

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Smoking Gun
The Burnt Forehead Of Max Saul
By Indrajit Hazra
Ravi Dayal Rs 125, Pages: 152
Does this really signal "the arrival of a new generation of gifted, young Indian writers"? There is a more burning question. What was Indrajit Hazra smoking when he wrote this book?

The plot is-immaterial. No self-respecting Bengali intellectual, presuming he survived the devastating critique of him this magazine ran a few issues ago, asks what Jean Paul Sartre's Nausea was about, or what surrealism really means. It's enough that it exists. The Burnt Forehead of Max Saul is apparently (we think, we hope) about the said Saul, rescued from a city dumpster and searching for a life beyond garbage. The life before garbage, including a relentless hunt for a woman called Sarai (sexy name, that!) who turns out to be imaginary, propels readers and Saul on a hallucinatory tour of the Calcutta that genteel souls like Amit Chaudhuri will never ever see.

Apart from Saul, composer of immortal verse such as Ode to a Cigarette, the most engaging character here is Tamal Haloi, the superannuated maestro of water bowls and Jew's harp, brushed aside by the relentless onslaught of the Yamaha keyboard. There's also a cemented piano playing a cameo role which hails straight out of Abbot and Costello. A street dog who attaches himself to Saul. A professional murder committed by an amateur on behalf of the disenfranchised musician. And a few immortal lines: "Hell, aren't we all characters in someone's fat-arsed books?"

Jejune in parts, the whole satisfies far more than the pretentious, aiming-for-a-prize novels that are now standard fare. So return to the question. What was this Hazra guy, whom the blurb identifies as a former member of the Great Elastic Rubber Band, smoking when he wrote this book? And can he spare some of it for other rising Indian novelists? It will do them a world of good!

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