Desi Maal: Amitava Kumar’s ‘Home Products’

Amitava Kumar has authored three works of nonfiction ‘Passport Photos’, ‘Bombay London New York’ and ‘Husband of a Fanatic’.  ‘Home Products’ is Amitava Kumar’s first work of fiction.

Amitava Kumar’s ‘Home Products’ traces the journeys made by people of small towns, their aspirations and struggles. The book maps the creative process of Binod, a journalist from Motihari on an assignment in Bombay; he traverses between Bombay, Delhi and Patna. Vikas Dhar, a famous Bollywood director impressed by an editorial written by Binod on a young and ambitious poet from Patna who was murdered by a former politician, asks Binod to develop a script for a movie based on this story. Vikas Dhar sees the sleaze and drama in the story as good movie material.  

As Binod investigates and explores the story further, he realizes that lives in a small town are interlinked; hence the story of the young poet is also the story of his own aunt, Bua who leaves behind a bad marriage to become a politician. She steps out of the precincts of claustrophobic patriarchal world that her marriage leads her into. She ruptures realms beyond matrimony; she questions the repressive political system and is a part of a movement that upsets the political order in the state and the country. The  story that Binod labours to create includes people close to him — his Baba, Ma, his cousin Rabinder ( Bua’s son) serving a term in the prison for the offence of running a porno cybercaf√©, and Neeraj Dubey, a childhood friend who has made it big in Hindi movies.

The journeys that Binod makes spatially between Patna, Delhi and Bombay and the journeys that he takes into his past as he recalls his childhood in Bihar and his life in Delhi is constantly punctuated by what is happening in the world at large. The assassination of Indira Gandhi, the consequent pogrom against the Sikhs, the Godhra incident, the Tsunami along the southern coast of India  – these and many other incidents in the sub continent and those happening elsewhere impinge Binod consciousness and realign the way he thinks and writes. The story that he writes punctures the insularities of different spaces – personal and spatial.

‘Home Products’ is also a story of crossing boundaries. Binod moves away from Motihari and Patna to Delhi where he decides to become a writer. This is significant as Binod moves away from his past, the distress and pain that he sees in a small town. By moving away, he crosses over to become an aesthete, he has exchanged real life to a life that is organized around letters and words.

One can find echoes of Binod’s predicament in the reference made to the dilemma and conflict that Mulk Raj Anand experienced when he left India after his participation in the freedom struggle to live in England. Amitava Kumar refers to this in his non fiction book ‘Bombay London New York’. Anand had moved away from the site of struggle and pain, ‘the realities of freedom struggle’ into the world of aesthetes for whom ‘pleasure of literature and art were considered ends in themselves’. Mulk Raj Anand resolved the conflict by expressing that he would participate in the struggle for India’s freedom, but would also admire the Bloomsbury writers for their literary skill. These two realms of social reality and creativity did not contradict each other; on the contrary one enhanced the other. Binod uses his literary skill in a similar manner, he uses his writing to get closer  home, to write of the past  and events that he tried stepping around by leaving home. He gets absorbed in the process of writing as that takes him closer to the social reality for it is through words that he begins to perceive the world, the world from where he hails that find its way again and again into the story that he scripts.

This also perhaps refers to the predicament of the author Amitava Kumar who like Binod does not travel in his writing too far from his home. In an interview after the release of the book Amitava Kumar has said, “I’m convinced now that the only story I have to tell is the story of how to find the words to put down on the page, or how to tell your own story – the story of how you came to be. My idea is that at the end of Home Products, the reader should find that the book Binod was trying to write is this very one, the one the reader is holding.” And the book that we hold is primarily about hopes and dreams of people from Amitava’s home town —  Binod, Rabinder, Bua, Neeraj Dubey and Binod’s father.

Amitava Kumar in response to what it feels to be writing about India from outside, asks if his writing would be considered more authentic if he lived here in India, inhaled smog and stood in queues for several hours. The author has proved that he could still write an authentic novel drawing from his provincial roots without being caught up in the inconveniences of smog and labyrinthine queues.