Sunday, April 7, 2019

"Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss"

Rajeev Balasubramanyam’s first novel, In Beautiful Disguises won a Betty Trask Prize and was nominated for the Guardian First Fiction Prize. In 2004 he was awarded the Clarissa Luard Prize for the best British writer under the age of 35.

Balasubramanyam holds a PhD in English, and degrees from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He has lived in London, Manchester, a remote Suffolk beach, Berlin, Kathmandu, and Hong Kong, where he was a Research Scholar in the Society of Scholars at Hong Kong University. He is a currently a fellow of the Hemera Foundation, for writers with a meditation practice, and has been writer in residence at Crestone Zen Mountain Center and the Zen Center of New York City.

Balasubramanyam applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss, and reported the following:
From page 69:
‘And do you agree with your wife that you choose to work the hours you do?’

Chandra looked from Jean, who was staring at him, to Ms. Benson, who was cleaning her glasses. Of course it wasn’t a choice: if he didn’t work then how would he pay for their house, or their cars, or the televisions in every room, or the sums he doled out to cousins in India, some of whom he had never even met? And did anyone have the slightest idea what it was like for him in that department, how hated he was by those mediocrats, how he had to work twice as hard as all of them, not including the Senior Common Room somnambulists who did not work all? If that was a choice, you might as well call breathing a choice.

‘Well, Chandra?’ said Cynthia Benson.

‘Yes,’ said Chandra. ‘I agree.’

‘There’s more,’ said Jean. ‘Charles won’t say this, but he doesn’t think the rules apply to him. He thinks he’s not an ordinary person, that his work has to come first because it’s vital for humanity and if his children have to suffer, then so be it.’

It was the cruellest thing she had ever said to him. Could he help it if he was a brilliant man? Yes, why not say it? B-R-I-L-L-I-A-N-T. It was a fact acknowledged by far greater authorities than Cynthia Sigmund. And yes, his work mattered. As he never tired of telling Jean, he had been born into a poor country, truly poor, not the sort of kitchen sink poverty she complained of but the sort where millions died in famines, where homelessness meant homelessness instead of a preference for inferior wines and an al fresco lifestyle. Chandra’s work saved lives. It didn’t mean he was more important than Jean or that he didn’t love his family, but it was a fact.
Page 69 is when my titular character, the world famous trade economist, Professor Chandra, attends marriage counselling with his wife. He is a patriarchal workaholic, and a narcissist, and all of this makes his wife, Jean, unhappy. But Chandra lacks self-awareness: he has never questioned his decisions before and now that he’s finally forced to, he refuses to see them as decisions but as compulsions. I think he's right – in one manner of speaking, nothing is a choice. Our external circumstances and level of awareness determine everything we do. We can, however, change our level of awareness, which is what the book is about. After a life threatening accident, Chandra does indeed embark on a journey of burgeoning self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Whether he chooses to do this, or whether he is forced, is too difficult a question for me to answer.
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--Marshal Zeringue