Kunal Basu’s “In An Ideal World” is a powerful, gritty, and fast-paced literary novel that explores a variety of themes relevant to today’s times.
The story revolves around the disappearance of Altaf Hussein, a young Muslim student, member of the liberal party of a college. The main suspect in this kidnapping is Bobby, the leader of the nationalist group at the same college. The rift between liberals and nationalists invades the Sengupta household in Kolkata when Joy, a bank manager, and Rohini, his schoolteacher wife – both compassionate humanists – learn the shocking news that their only son, Bobby, is implicated in the disappearance of Altaf.
Thus begins the mission of the suspect’s parents, who find themselves caught between rumors, religions and riots, as they try to uncover this mysterious disappearance and absolve the son they have raised and in whom they believe. This investigation leads to surprising results.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
The Sengupta house alarm clock rang every morning at six o’clock, unless Rohini had set it half an hour earlier for her yogic breathing. Sunrise was the best time to expand his chronically clogged lungs and expel excess carbon. Closing the left nostril with an index finger, she inhaled through the right, then closed the right nostril, exhaled through the left. Twenty counts, with a break in between. While Joy was still asleep, she made up her potion of ginseng, lemon, and the extract of young banana leaves. Then, putting the milk to boil, she smoked her first cigarette of the day.
Her doctor had reminded her during her last visit that her grade two COPD was happily on its way to grade three. To get away from the edge of the cliff, she had to lose weight, avoid pollution and quit smoking. “I want you to go from one pack a day to seven and then step down to three, two, one and zero,” Dr. Rakshit said as a countdown. Her weight was in her genes, Rohini argued, whenever Joy reminded her of Dr Rakshit’s advice. Pollution was inevitable in the most polluted city in the world, and smoking? Everyone needed a stress buster, especially the headmaster of Epsilon International School.
“You can quit Epsilon to quit smoking.” Joy had made the mistake of offering a practical solution.
“I think the same,” replied Rohini, cutting buds in her terraced garden. ‘I’m thinking of starting a brothel and becoming a madam. Let others do the heavy lifting. Become Lulu White from Kolkata.’
Waking up late after the Flurys party, Joy watched Rohini smoke. Normally he closed his eyes or turned around to face the wall. There was no point in making a scene so soon. It was none of the bank’s business or Joy Sengupta, married to Rohini Sengupta for twenty years, to close the COPD case. It was up to the skeleton in her to decide how he wished to deal with the tissues, how much pain he liked to allow himself. Normally, he pondered a philosophical question as he listened to the sparrows chatter: What made humans spawn their own enemy, like gods spawning demons? The Rohini he had encountered after the cast was removed from his leg was handy. She didn’t believe in the feasibility of a revolution, the unachievable task of winning a class war, or the illogical premise of becoming comrades before becoming lovers. Rohini and Mimi were two hands on the same clock, one turning clockwise and the other counterclockwise. As a zoologist, Rohini believed in the eleven elements present in the human body. Her time with Joy was spent on mammalogy and taxonomy. Darwin was for her a greater prophet than Marx. And she understood the central purpose of all living forms: to mate and multiply.
In Rohini, Joy had encountered the perfect antidote: the brute force of life neutralized the youthfulness of youth. Their life, built little by little with salary, raises and bonuses, bore the mark of a solid plan. He had given away a south-facing apartment – a rarity in the city – twenty uninterrupted years with no connection on either side, and Bobby. For health, they had yoga, and servants for housework. There were friends transferring from college and new ones; for fun, an occasional joint to go with rum on the weekends and fucking on the open terrace when drunk.
Body turned to the wall, Joy wondered why the plan had failed like the revolution. With Rohini smoking his lungs, it was obvious to him that being practical was no different from being a dreamer, both flawed, unequal to a cunning human nature.
“You were upset last night,” Rohini said to Joy over her shoulder. ‘Trouble. Your mind was elsewhere. You spent a whole hour in the shower, you haven’t finished your favorite linguine.
Rohini was also disturbed; he could feel it when he returned from Flurys. It was appraisal time for the Epsilon staff, and she was busy going through the file of every teacher, 150 of them. She played the role of the Machine, looking for errors: complaints against a teacher by a parent or errors in the marking of exams. The private owners of the school wanted to retain only the perfect ones and dismiss the others. The linguini were overcooked, lumpy, and she’d winced at dinner.
“You are lucky to be with the government. You can work until you’re sixty and then leave after a farewell party, without waiting to be fired just because a stinky relative thinks you were rude to his princess.
Rohini didn’t mind getting hacked, Joy knew that. She worried for those she would have to look into her eyes and smile sadly.
‘Did head office call you for any reason? Did they discover that something was wrong at the branch? Handing him her cup of tea, Rohini seemed to have recovered from the assessment. Morning tea time was their domestic hour to review any blocked pipes or problems occurring at Bharat Bank or Epsilon.
Excerpted with permission from In an ideal world, Kunal Basu, Penguin India. Read more about the book here and buy it here.
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