Social Scientist. v 15, no. 161 (Oct 1986) p. 62.


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Book Review

The Circle of Reason

AMITAV Gno3H, The Circle of Reason^ HamistrHamilton, Rolli Books, Rs. 49

SOMETIMES from a double-decker bus you could see a whole refugee bustee encircled by gun-toting C.R.P. uniforms. It was simply another day in Calcutta of the early 70s, There were also evenings when your elders told you of sonar bangia, of a wealth of fish and land which dissolved in the nightmare of riots, war and exile. And the story continues, enfolding in everyday sights and headlines: the Nellie Massacre, burnt houses which once belonged to Sikhs in Delhi, labour contractors leading a flock of rural poor from Orissa to Kashmir, proposals for a boundry wall on the Bangladesh border...... The history of our sub-continent, especially of its

northern part, has never been able to take its continuities and culture for granted. A life of constant movement and violence has incessantly serrated our roots.

It is not often that we choose to acknowledge the restlessness of our lives. When we do, as in Attia Hosain's Sunlight On A Brjken Column, it is seen simply as a dislocation from a settled childhood. Amitav Ghosh's The Circle of Reason presents a much more enigmatic appreciation. It combines within itself an uncompromising restlessness with a poise and control that suggests peace rather than longing. This is remarkable, for really The Circle offers nothing which it can call home. Initially located in a refugee village, the story refers back to Bangladesh and Calcutta, finally moving to the Middle East via Kerala where it reaches its denouement in a desert of shifting sand-dunes. And all the while it travels through environments which are never entirely rural or urban. Nor do its ideas provide a stable attitude. Each idea evolves from the story, posing a challenge to the preceding one and is itself qualified by a succeeding understanding. Even a basic element like Time, is not uniformly patterned. The Circle is an epic of restlessness. And yet, the calm...

Science, philosophy, history, politics, culture, art, language, the joy of living, the despair of repeated loss—these are only some of the strands which make the scope of this novel fairly formidable. And like a conjurer, its restless energy provides at each moment and at all levels, a fresh disclosure. The level of the story, for instance. The novel provides not one, but many stories, each equally appealing and important.

Basically there are three stories knitted around three characters. The first part uofolds the story of Balaram, a nationalist entranced by the Life



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