A book review of “No path in Darjeeling is Straight” by Parimal Bhattacharya
“Darjeeling is never to be found in its Mall and Chowrasta, in its five points and seven points. It is not concealed, like the pea in the princess’s tale, in the snows, pine trees, hills and tree gardens. Darjeeling exists in a way of seeing, something that is wrapped around this hill town like a mantle of mists …” (page 100, an excerpt from No Path in Darjeeling is Straight)
Who do you belong to, Darjeeling?
The book starts on a sombre note on the many suicides Darjeeling witnessed in the early days of settlement (and also the recent ones from the archives). The author pens down the names of people, long forgotten, half-eaten by moss and time on the tombstone of Darjeeling’s graveyard.
It maintains its sobriety in prose to never sugar coat truth and stand far away from a line of bias literature. Perhaps that’s why we, the members of Hamrobookclub fell in love with the book as we found it a meticulous art, not to forget the subject of the book, Darjeeling being the one town we truly love. The attention to detail and the quirky remarks all fit in a volume of 192 pages; this is indeed the writer’s love letter to Darjeeling.
About the author, is it safe to call him a “Macaulian Babu”? Being an outsider, he presents an outward view of the people and the places around Darjeeling with the sharp precision of a memory keeper. The layered stories keep peeling off the skins of Darjeeling to show the world what’s hidden underneath the tea bushes, the stark reality of lives here. Some unspoken and unwritten reality, scattered everywhere around town are stories of the ’90s but have the authenticity of fresh news. Thanks to the author I have updated my booklist and playlist.
To be honest I was provoked; being a fifth-generation Nepali living in Darjeeling, I know my history well. Perhaps the Britishers must’ve admired the endurance and the muteness of my ancestors; they removed us to a land that they got on lease from the kingdom of Sikkim, a gift from Chogyal (King of Sikkim) which was a form of penance because of the misjudgement on his Minister’s part. [refer the famous Kazi-Dalton-Campbell incident always cracks me up]
Darjeeling is a land where my ancestors are buried, a land where they plucked tea leaves and put this name on a map. The sting of truth hurt a little but these were facts that even I couldn’t deny. I must mention that I was also aroused by the style of writing. I am not a non-fiction person; I prefer a little drama in prose. The book provides a fresh perspective of Darjeeling with well-researched materials. With the first 20 pages in, you will notice how the writer is deeply in love with this town but he doesn’t love blindly. There is an emotional connection that echoes with us. It is the right mixture of romance and pragmatism that makes this book unputdownable.
The hyperbole of the most ordinary sight in the language of the coloniser is ironic. His criticism may not set well with some as some of his remarks are scathing. He is apolitically political; being an outsider he has the liberty to disapprove of things which we as Darjeelingays find difficult to approve and pass. There are various versions of the truth, but the truth must always be original.
I love the book and the writing not just because I love Darjeeling but I am envious of the writer. Every line I read pierced my soul, it stripped me naked and made me vulnerable for the world to see. It is written so well that it makes me question my knowledge, it’s the kind of envy that breathes a new zeal in me.
It would be unfair to call the writer an outsider. To whom do you belong Darjeeling?
It belongs to me, to Parimal and to everyone who loves Darjeeling. Even to the tourists who come to visit this town for a week-long vacation. To the Scottish planters who left their home and died on this soil, to the Tibetan refugees and to the different ethnic groups whom Darjeeling welcomed with open arms; Darjeeling is a home to everyone who loves her.
“Every Individual here is a conscious actor in an endless drama, even during life’s most ordinary moments.” (Page 68 No Path in Darjeeling is Straight)