Sasthi Brata Biography
Sasthi Brata comments:
Nationality: British. Born: Sasthibrata Chakravarti in Calcutta, India, 1939. Education: Calcutta Boys School; Presidency College, Calcutta University. Career: Has worked in Europe as a lavatory attendant, kitchen porter, barman, air-conditioning engineer, and postman, and in New York as a freelance journalist; London columnist, Statesman, 1977-80. Awards: Arts Council grant, 1979. Agent: Barbara Lowenstein, 250 West 57th Street, Suite 701, New York, New York 10107, U.S.A.
Confessions of an Indian Woman Eater. London, Hutchinson, 1971; as Confessions of an Indian Lover, New Delhi, Sterling, 1973.
She and He. New Delhi, Orient, 1973.
The Sensuous Guru: The Making of a Mystic President. New Delhi, Sterling, 1980.
Encounter. New Delhi, Orient, 1978.
Eleven Poems. New Delhi, Blue Moon, 1960.
My God Died Young (autobiography). London, Hutchinson, and NewYork, Harper, 1968.
A Search for Home (autobiography). New Delhi, Orient, 1975.
Astride Two Worlds: Traitor to India. New Delhi, B.I. Publications, 1976; as Traitor to India: A Search for Home, London, Elek, 1976.
Labyrinths in the Lotus Land (on India). New York, Morrow, 1985.
India: The Perpetual Paradox. London, Tauris, 1986.
(1991) My first published book, My God Died Young, was a self-professed autobiography, written at the age of 28, before I had made any kind of a name for myself as a writer, or anything else. This led a good few publishers, readers, and finally critics to utter the exasperated cry: "What makes you think that the story of your life (woefully unlived-in up to that time) deserves to be told? Or that people will want to read it?" The answer to these questions was within the book itself, of course. But in a sense all of my writing, fiction, non-fiction, and journalism, has been an attempt to refute the assumptions lurking behind those superficially plausible and innocent-sounding queries. For they presume that only the heroic and the grand deserve artistic exploration and autobiographical treatment. While I believe, very firmly, that everyone, but everyone has a story to tell. The difference between the true artist and the pub bore is that the writer has a sure grasp over the instruments of his trade—words, sentences, paragraphs, syntax, metaphor, melody—and is then able to select, assemble, and present a somewhat more ordered and appetizing version of the world than the chaotic, often repetitive jumble of experiences from external reality which make up his raw material.
All my fiction has been supremely autobiographical. Even in those books which are listed as non-fiction on library shelves, I have used fictional devices, and equally freely introduced reportage techniques in books which profess to be novels. I should warn the prospective reader however not to deduce from this that every hero in every one of my novels is an exactly congruent picture of the man I am. In a review of the late Yukio Mishima's novels I wrote: "The obsessionally autobiographical writer may be an invisible man." For while he may not be telling lies, he is not necessarily telling the truth either, at least not of the kind the law courts would accept. Since he is an artist, he has used his imagination, but he has not necessarily let you into the secret of where the fictive imagination begins or where empirically verifiable reality ends.
There was a time when I used to be irked by attacks on the high sexual content in my writing. I am no longer. Few addicts of hardcore porn would find any of my books satisfactory. Prurient sensibilities, with a cavalier indifference to style and linguistic resonances, might equally be put off by their subject matter. Apologies to neither group.
I would call myself a "radical traditionalist" as a novelist, if only because to be a successful "experimental" writer, in the sense that Joyce and Borges are, requires a poetic sensibility I do not possess. It is easy to descend into the wholly bogus or deliberately pedantic in trying to achieve effects about which one is not totally sure. There are no rules in the use of language of course, but I would rather stick within certain wide but strictly defined limits, than stray into those unexplored territories where the arcane, obscure, or simply fraudulent vendors ply their wares. I believe that all my books can be read simply as good tales.
Labyrinths in the Lotus Land was my first commissioned work. I wrote it specifically for a Western audience. It was an ambitious attempt to inform a western reader, within the compass of a single book, everything that he or she might wish to know about the country, spanning the whole gamut of history, religion, art, politics, etc. Critics who complained about the apparent incongruity of introducing personal experiences into a book which purports to portray a picture of contemporary India were not aware of my long-held belief that by relating a particular incident or episode in a graphic and authentic manner, the universal is illuminated more poignantly than any amount of dry didactic scholarship can ever do.
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Most of Sasthi Brata's books are written in the first person, and all his heroes seem to be modeled after the novelist himself. The hero is always a Bengali Brahmin, from a well-to-do family, who lives in Calcutta and studies physics at college. He leaves home in protest after the girl of his choice is married off to someone whom her parents have chosen. He drifts into a number of jobs, including journalism, and finally establishes himself comfortably in Hampstead. His chief hobby is haunting pubs. The narrator of his first novel, Confessions of an Indian Woman Eater, differs only in name from the narrator of the autobiographies My God Died Young and Astride Two Worlds. The physical characteristics remain the same, even if the hero is Zamir Ishmael of She and He: he is dark, of medium height, with dark eyes and an attractive smile; his success with women is unlimited. Brata's books are quite readable; his style is racy and adequate for his purpose, which is generally limited to describing the exploits of his hero in bed. The exception is Astride Two Worlds, the second part of his autobiography, which touches upon many serious topics like racial discrimination in Britain, the involvement of the Indian government in the guerrilla activities of the Mukti Bahini in Bangladesh in 1971, and the growing disillusionment of the young with established politicians in India. A couple of chapters, written in the third person, serve to give a proper perspective to this autobiography.
Brata's best selling novel, Confessions of an Indian Woman Eater, begins where his first book, My God Died Young, an autobiography, let off: Amit Ray, like Sasthi Brata, runs away from his Calcutta home. Amit recounts his varied sexual experiences in a number of capitals—New Delhi, Rome, London, Paris, Copenhagen. He finally ends up in Hampstead with a steady job, and becomes a successful writer. For a certain readership the chief attraction of the book would lie in the step-by-step accounts of copulation, found almost every ten pages. The next novel, She and He, has a hero born of an Arab father and a French mother; he is at home in England and lands a good job because he can speak the language with the proper accent. He always talks about writing the "Great English Novel," but does nothing about it until one of his ex-girlfriends sends him an unfinished novel, having written her side of the story, with blank pages for the hero to fill in. The first person account of Zamir alternating with the third person narrative of Sally is an interesting stylistic innovation, but the hero's mindless drifting from bed to bed is ultimately boring.
The Sensuous Guru: The Making of a Mystic President, perhaps the most imaginative of Brata's works, recounts the rise of Ram Chukker (short for Ram Chakravarti, just as Sasthi Brata is the shortened form of Sasthibrata Chakravarti). Chukker initially sets himself up as a Guru in New York, and makes a good living. He writes a short autobiographical novel, The Making of a Guru, which outdoes the worst that America can produce in pornography. Through high-pressure promotion with the help of an influential literary agent Chukker wins the Pulitzer Prize, is nominated for the Nobel Prize, manages one for Peace, and is ultimately elected President of the United States.
Brata has also published a collection of stories; most of them are like his novels (some have appeared, with modifications, as chapters in his novels). One very good story is "Smiles among the Bric-a-Brac," about a young Oxford graduate from a rich English family, comfortably settling down to the girl and the job his parents have chosen for him, though he earlier loves the beautiful Nina Fernandez, of mixed parentage. The first person account, with the hero justifying the way he drops Nina, is a beautiful psychological study of the hero's lack of principles. It is significant that Robert Lomax, from an old English family, is very different from the usual Bengali hero. One feels that Brata could write better fiction, especially if he got rid of his autobiographical obsession.
—Shyamala A. Narayan
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