Popular Indian TV anchor Udayan Mukherjee’s fourth book turns a critical gaze on Kolkata

It unravels how inequality has always been central to the world’s biggest democracy



by

Joydeep Sengupta

Published: Fri 28 Oct 2022, 8:14 PM

Udayan Mukherjee was born in Kolkata. For two decades, he was the face of the Indian financial markets, as anchor and managing editor of CNBC. He is the author of the novel Dark Circles, and the collection of short stories, Essential Items — both published by Bloomsbury — and the crime novel A Death in the Himalayas. No Way In is his fourth book. wknd. spoke with Mukherjee about his latest novel, which is located in his place of birth.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

What was the inspiration for the plot structure?

The issue of inequality and unequal opportunity has always been central in India, one that is vexing for me as an Indian citizen and, therefore, fundamental to me as a writer. A certain class of Indians may have prospered over the last two decades, thanks to the growth of the formal economy and asset prices, but that, ironically, has only widened the gap between the haves and have nots. It is almost a vicious cycle of the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. This chasm, aggravated by growing alienation along the lines of religion, class and caste, has grave ramifications for the stability of Indian society. It is this seemingly stable, yet intrinsically volatile, equilibrium that forms the backdrop of No Way In. The aim is to examine, through the eyes of its protagonists, who belong to very different stratas of Indian society, what it means to be living in modern-day India; and to highlight the bigotries, hypocrisies and iniquities that come in the way of the relatively less advantaged in realising their dreams and ambitions.

What was the impact of the 2014 parliamentary elections on Kolkata’s social fabric?

The state of West Bengal has a history of communal violence, Partition-induced and otherwise. In 2014, the election which forms the backdrop of the novel, the party does not — despite a thumping victory in the parliamentary elections — make significant inroads but there can be no doubt that people of Bengal, and Kolkata particularly, are no longer averse to giving the right wing faction a chance, a prospect once unimaginable in what was considered a red bastion. Perhaps, it is the lure of economic progress or an expression of the underlying disharmony that has brought this to the surface, but it is capable of splitting Bengali society right down the middle, as citizens of Kolkata are forced to choose between a rapacious, scam-ravaged incumbent and its divisive challenger. It is a subject of considerable debate and angst with upper middle-class inhabitants of Kolkata, and thus finds expression in many characters in the novel.

How is Jol Pori a microcosm of modern-day India?

Jol Pori’s inhabitants comprise people from all walks of life — the privileged business tycoon, his educated and cultured wife grappling with the daily unfairnesses that the house staff are subjected to, the driver who remains ostracised despite years of dedicated service to the family, the cook who pines for a better life for her son and has to make grave sacrifices to stay the course, and her son who has to toe a fine line despite the affections of the house owner’s son. In a sense, Jol Pori is like a small India of its own, trapped in the same feudal structure that has held the country back since independence. And as we witness the country’s marked socio-political swerve to the right, we find the same themes resonate within Jol Pori, as the home and the world appear as one.

How can India bridge the class and caste divide?

With economic progress, one would expect to see divisions along lines of class and caste fade away, yet the opposite seems to be happening in India. Recent instances of communal tension in Bengaluru, India’s information technology (IT) capital, demonstrate that under the veneer of any corporate or civic sensibility, lies the age-old divisions that are the country’s Achilles heel. As the plotline of No Way In reveals, these divisions and prejudices are so deeply ingrained that they need only an agent to bring to the surface or leap out at the slightest provocation or opportunity. There is a lot of talk about India becoming a ‘developed’ nation soon, but we have a very long way to go on the social front before earning that epithet.

joydeep@khaleejtimes.com


More news from Books