02 October, 2020

Outsider Perils

An original ambition matched only by the author's skill.

Outsider Perils
For most Indians, Partition has a singular meaning; it refers to the splitting of the country into two in ’47. It’s easy to forget the second Partition as East Pakistan became Bangladesh and another wave of refugees shuttled between borders again, paying the necessary toll in blood.

With little effort, Siddhartha Deb could have rehashed a Tamas for the times. But Deb—journalist, migrant several times over, debut novelist of startling maturity—has a story to tell that deals with borders and boundaries while going far beyond them. The book opens with the first generation’s travails already past, entombed in indifferent silence. For Babu, the narrator-in-chief: "It was not a question of roots or origin." Babu’s done most of his growing up in Rilbong—Shillong thinly fictionalised. The Northeast has already "emotionally seceded into its own space"; its Bengali immigrants have the first intimations that the certainties of their lives are built on quicksand.

Babu’s father, Dr Dam, has struggled with the problems facing a government servant quixotically bent on...



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