A Gritty Literary Noir
Sumitra Kannan
A DEATH IN SHONAGACHHI by Rijula Das Picador India, 2021, 312 pp., 599.00
January 2023, volume 47, No 1

Rijula Das’s book A Death in Shonagacchi, despite its title, is less about death and more about life and living. You cannot find a more unlikely hero than Tilu Shau, even if you determinedly looked for one. A man of unassuming looks, which is to say he is nothing to look at, short of stature with a caved-in chest, falls in love with the dark and buxom Lalee of the red-light district of Shonagachhi. To Lalee, love dove mean nothing. Can the client pay is the only pertinent question. She sees Tilu’s infatuation and ruthlessly moves to raise her rates. Yet, no romance has a more tender moment anywhere than the two of them sharing a cup of hot tea under a drippy roof, which is threatening to blow away any moment. Tilu our hero of little looks and even less money is a writer of porno. His Sister-in-Law series pays for the cheap beedi he smokes, an occasional meal, and the dalliance with Lalee, that satisfies his soul. Still, you cannot underestimate Tilu. Admittedly it is cheap porn that keeps his body and soul together, but in his mind he is on par with the legendary Job Charnock, the swashbuckling hero who singlehandedly fights evil and valiantly rescues a woman from her unwilling Sati pyre and marries her. Rumour has it that he is also the architect of modern Calcutta. Tilu wanders on the crowded, dirty streets of Calcutta, his mind full of the grandeur of the city, its beauty. He has the special knack of seeing it as it probably once was. For Tilu is also in love with the city. Shrewd Lalee knows, and charges him extra for his fantasy.

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