Real Time: Stories and a Memoir in Verse (2002) consists of 15 short stories and a piece of poetry. Many of the tales are fictional meditations on the artistic process and its characters are often poets and musicians. One critic has described Chaudhuri as a 'miniaturist' and the intricate, understated stories within this collection certainly constitute memorable miniatures. This fact also sets his work apart from the 'elephantic' narratives of people like Mistry, Seth and Rushdie.
As well as being a gifted storyteller, Amit Chaudhuri has demonstrated his ability as an editor recently, in The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature (2001). This is an ambitious collection spanning over 600 pages, and taking over five years to complete. The selections are headed with incisive, illuminating and often amusing biographical details. The selections themselves are informed and diverse, combining the household names of Indian literature (Seth, Rushdie, Narayan, Ghosh) with lesser-known writers (Ashok Banker, Nirmal Verma). However the Picador anthology is certainly not without some glaring absences: Arundhati Roy, Rohinton Mistry, not to mention the complete absence of Gujarati and Marathi writers. Unlike Rushdie though, whose anthology of Indian literature famously snubbed writers not writing in English, Chaudhuri does offer a rich selection (around 20) of work in translation for us to enjoy.
AMIT CHAUDHURI is an unlikely radical. He dresses conservatively. His hesitant delivery is of one who weighs each word carefully before committing it to speech, as though language came to him in a box labelled "Handle With Care". His four novels, A Strange and Sublime Address, Afternoon Raag, Freedom Song, and A New World, are slim and sensitive — a bit like the man himself. "I was first and foremost a poet," he confesses, "I had no intention of becoming a prose writer" and yet it is fiction (albeit highly poeticised fiction) that has made his name.
But there is another aspect to the man revealed in his latest two works — both non-fiction. The first, a work of literary criticism which reveals him to be a fiercely intelligent and non-conformist critic; the other a collection of political essays, where he comes across as passionate, committed, and outspoken.
Reading D.H. Lawrence and Difference: Postcoloniality and the Poetry of the Present (OUP), I couldn't help but admire the sheer chutzpah of taking on: (a) Lawrence, the Wild Man of Eng. Lit.; (b) not even his novels but his poetry, a notoriously mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ikky; and (c) coming at it via post-structuralist and post-colonialist theory. It sounded like a recipe for disaster — or, worse, a print run of 500, and a lingering death on some dusty university library bookshelf.