A real hotchpotch

A real hotchpotch

No Direction Rome
Kaushik Barua
4th Estate
2015, pp 190, Rs 399

Kaushik Barua’s novel No Direction Rome is the story of an Indian expatriate, Krantik, and his life in Rome. His first book, Windhorse, had won the author the Sahitya Akedemi Yuva Puraskar.

Krantik of No Direction Rome seems to have many, many problems of his own — for starters, his fiancée Pooja has just attempted suicide. She’s the daughter of an influential MP and she has an obnoxious brother who threatens the “weak”. There are constant attempts by the said brother to bully and intimidate the already harassed protagonist. That Pooja might not want a marriage of this kind is irrelevant — since she was engaged to Krantik, there must be a marriage no matter what either of them thinks or really desires.

Krantik is also lonely in Rome, and as his internal monologues suggest, desperate for company. His thoughts flow from Roman ruins to the many diseases he thinks he has. Perhaps the loneliness contributes to his extremely opinionated views and the obsession with his health. Every other day the man thinks he’s dying and his bowel movements are described in extreme detail. He has friends who are friendly but give him little company, he has a sort of girlfriend in Chiara who’s married and yet in an open relationship. And of course, his landlord has turtles and Krantik imagines them talking to each other. Amidst all of this is Krantik’s job and the demands of his boss and the tension that follows, including a mad break in. Essentially, Krantik seems to be a drifter, caught between worlds and struggling to find a sense of identity in the midst of a chaotic world of quick fixes and displacement, and the intense stress of the workplace.

Unfortunately, none of this comes across as particularly convincing. Most of the time, the novel drifts in and out of Krantik’s neurotic ramblings that make for difficult reading. Juxtaposed with the already wordy stream of consciousness is the conversation between Krantik’s landlord’s turtles, as mentioned before. Or at least, Krantik’s interpretation of how that conversation would go if the turtles could talk. He is painfully and graphically obsessed with the toilet, to the point where the Colosseo (the Colosseum) is described thus, “…it had been around for two thousand years, its massive open mouth gaping at the skies like a toilet bowl for the gods...” (page 2). To reduce a monument of architectural ingenuity and engineering to the image of a toilet bowl would require the reader’s imagination to be stretched to the extreme. And, at the very least, most of these descriptions in No Direction Rome are lurid and practically unreadable.

As a narrative device, the stream of consciousness does not lend itself well at all to No Direction Rome.” Dialogues are burdened with too much bantering. There aren’t any quotation marks to identify them either, perhaps keeping the writing style in mind. Unlike James Joyce’s Ulysses, in which the narration has a flow of its own, No Direction Rome is stilted and often confusing. And unlike Holden Caulfield in J D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Krantik is far less credible as a figure of his times, instead, the character is a caricature with pronounced eccentricities and predilections not everybody can identify with or relate to. It could be that the …Jack Kerouac meets James Joyce meets Harold & Kumar meets Jonathan Lethem… inspirations that the blurbs refers to is perhaps excessive. An overdose of literary and pop culture influences does not necessarily coalesce well with the story.

No Direction Rome is a trying, difficult read. Serious issues like suicide appear to be tossed around rather casually. There are many distractions, thoughts and silent soliloquies.  The cover quotes a description of the book as being “…violently funny and epically tragic,” and the blurb says the novel is a “…bizarre tour de force...” It might just prove to be too bizarre for the average reader.

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