Authors: Raj Kamal Jha
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction, #Literary
‘In the detailing of lower-middle-class urban life, Jha is nothing short of brilliant. He reminded me of things I had forgotten . . . The stories within the narrative (a millworker’s obsession with his pigeons, the journey of a rural woman into urban drudgery as a housemaid) are told with conviction and grace’
‘Mesmerizing. An unnerving, erotic puzzle that works through exquisite and excruciating glimpses. It uncovers a secret intimacy, a haunting mix-up, between violence and love, yearning and beauty and fear . . . I admire the way Raj Kamal Jha gets under the skin, behind the eyes, even into the hormones of his characters. And the prose is searingly simple with a beautiful edge of immediacy. It struck me as that rare treat: a truly unusual read’
Andrea Ashworth, author of
Once in a House on Fire
‘He has a talent for affecting and immensely descriptive language, thick with poetry; a keen and observant eye . . . He has an intuitive feeling for the wistful fleeting and sensual nature of memory, and the book is full of intensely evocative and lyrical passages, describing small moments that magnify the fickle nature of time and memory . . . watch out for this exciting new writer’
Sydney Morning Herald
‘Raj Kamal Jha knows how to take us by the scruff of our clichés, lead us down seemingly predictable paths, and then swerve sharply sideways’
Times Literary Supplement
‘An incredibly powerful and original voice. It was like a symphony in words’
The Blue Bedspread
is important because it is authentic in its voice, in its depiction of the internal sensibility of a culture that is enervated, exhausted, driven by pain and despair and joylessness to the very edge. From that edge comes a re-affirmation of strength, a revalidation of joy’
‘Most striking is the spare, sometimes bleak yet tender evocation of Calcutta, this congested “city of twelve million names” through images of rain, flood and snowfall, and an insistent attention to light. It is this sense of a city, with its undertow of violence redeemed by love and imagination . . . that gives the book its grace’
The Blue Bedspread
is written in a style which is intimate and full of stillness. The story itself is deeply compelling and shocking’
‘Jha’s writing is fluent and he displays a keen eye for Calcutta life’
‘If you want to get ahead of the literary game this year, practise getting your jaws around the following syllables: Raj Kamal Jha . . . precise yet bewitching prose’
Independent on Sunday
Raj Kamal Jha was born in 1966 and spent his first eighteen years in Calcutta. He returned to the city in 1992 as an editor with the
He now lives in New Delhi, where he is an editor on the
Indian Express. The Blue Bedspread
won the 1999 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book (Eurasia).
First published 1999 by Picador
First published in paperback 2000 by Picador
This electronic edition published 2009 by Picador
an imprint of Pan Macmillan Ltd
Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Rd, London N1 9RR
Basingstoke and Oxford
Associated companies throughout the world
ISBN 978-0-330-47450-4 in Adobe Reader format
ISBN 978-0-330-47449-8 in Adobe Digital Editions format
ISBN 978-0-330-47451-1 in Mobipocket format
Copyright © Raj Kamal Jha 1999
The right of Raj Kamal Jha to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
You may not copy, store, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this publication (or any part of it) in any form, or by any means (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
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For my father and my mother,
Munishwar and Ranjana Jha
I wish to thank:
My agents Gillon Aitken and Emma Parry, for their kindness and their patience.
The team at Picador, including the publisher, Peter Straus, for having the faith; and my editor, Mary Mount, for helping me improve this book.
Pankaj Mishra, for being there.
Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief,
The Indian Express,
for giving me the space.
Sujata Bose, my first reader and love, my partner in everything.
Sometimes I have to console myself with the fact that he who has lived a lie loves the truth.
– Ingmar Bergman,
The Magic Lantern
I could begin with my name but forget it, why waste time, it doesn’t matter in this city of twelve million names. I could begin with the way I look but what do I say, I am not a young man any more, I wear glasses, my stomach droops over the belt of my trousers.
There’s something wrong with my trousers. The waist, where the loops for the belt are, folds over every time, so if you look at me carefully while I am walking by, on the street or at the bus stop, you will see a flash of white, the cloth they use as lining, running above my belt, peeping out.
There was a time when I would have got embarrassed, tucked in my stomach, breathed deep, held that breath. Or even shouted at the tailor, refused to pay the balance, bought a firmer belt, tightened it by piercing the leather with a few extra holes. But now, why bother.
All that matters is you, my little child, and all I want at this moment is some silence so that you can sleep undisturbed and I can get over with these stories.
I will have to work fast, there isn’t much time.
They are coming to take you soon, the man and the woman. They will give you everything you need; they will take you to the Alipore Zoo, to the Birla Planetarium, show you baby monkeys and mother monkeys; the tiny torchlight, shaped like an arrow, that flashes, darts across the huge black hemispherical dome. They will make faces at the monkeys, you will laugh; they will tell you where Jupiter is, why we have evening and why we have night.
And then, after several summers and several winters, when the city has fattened, its sides spilled over into the villages where the railway tracks are, where the cycle-rickshaws ply, if you grow up into the fine woman I am sure you will, one day you will stop.
Something you will see or hear will remind you of something, missing in your heart, perhaps a hole, the blood rushing through it, and then like a machine which rumbles for a second just before it goes click, just before it begins to hum and move, you will stop and ask: ‘Who am I?’
They will then give you these stories.
The house where we are, the room in which you sleep, is on the second floor. From the veranda, you can look down on the tram wires; the street light, the yellow sodium vapour lamp, is a couple of feet above you. If you strain your eyes, you can see dead insects trapped in the plexiglas cover. How they got in, I don’t know.
Across the street, there’s an oil refining mill that shut down after a workers’ strike long ago. But its owner, I guess, had some of his heart still left so he continued to pay an old man to look after the dozen pigeons he kept in a cage near the entrance. Half of them are white, the rest are grey, and at least twice every day I stand in the veranda, nothing to do, watching the birds in the cage, fly around and around.