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March 26, 2011

Book Review - 16 : Of Wooing, Woes & Wanderings

Author: Amitabha Chatterjee
Publisher: Gyaana Books

Rajarshi can barely stammer a few words in Spanish. Marisel does not know a word of English. He is an young, inexperienced Indian with the baggage of Indian values in tow. She is an expressive Venezulean, bold and open in her ways. They met at the welcome party to his new job at the oil rig. And hence begins Rajarshi's humorous saga, across continents and cultures, as his job takes him from one oil rig to another.

OWWW is set in a unique milieu of oil-rigs around the world. The tales of Rajarshi move from Venezuela, Syria, Qatar, Egypt, Oman and India traversing lust, love, cultural differences and relationships in between. The narrative moves at a brisk pace, never indulging in unnecessary details than required and provides a feeling of belief about the characters. The work related issues and politics behind close doors is assured and at times, remind you of your own professional life. It is unpretentious in its approach, which is a highlight considering the author himself has spent years working in those oil rigs. In the end, it traverses journey of Rajarshi from a carefree bachelor to a responsible husband and a father which will charm you endlessly.

The real strength of the book lies in sensitive handling of a cross-cultural romantic relationship shared between the two main protagonists. It has that believable, non-filmy romance between them which is not easy to find these days in Indian fiction. Both of them share a smoldering chemistry and their sexual advances are well captured. The married life situations are real, the marital problems are common, their reactions to those problems are non-superficial and cleverly avoids any OTT knee-jerk actions. Hence, when the twist do come in the story... it doesn't look contrived at all because you know exactly where the venom in their words is coming from.

It does have certain bumpy moments interspersed in between these numerous travelogues. The oil-rigs portions are very dry sometimes, devoid of any humour and looks straight out of those National Geographic documentaries. There is a sub-plot dealing with the mysterious death of the cousin in Calcutta and Rajarshi rushing back to encounter it, but in the end it is self-indulgent, don't quite fit in the bigger scheme of things and required some editing to cut down in length. The Spanish dialogues may just irk a few readers, but they are kept shorter in length to keep the interest alive.

My favourite scene in the book is when Ankit, a colleague of Rajarshi explains how the owner of the oil rig spend on his sexual adventures from Bangkok to Dubai to Bali in one single weekend. It is a hard hitting scene because it brings out the irony of a man who is working so hard at his job to earn just that extra for his family, who incidentally is slipping away from him because of the same job. On a deeper level, it also highlights the gaping divide between the haves and have-nots in the society where the haves are becoming increasingly more stronger and the have-nots are left behind to make all the compromises.

I am going with 3/5 for Amitabha Chatterjee's first book, Of Wooing, Woes & Wanderings. It is set in a new, almost unexplored world and has a bunch of wonderful moments. It does meanders along in between, but holds on to the narrative with some poignant and engrossing writing. If you are a reader who likes to explore a different world in books, this one is just that right pick!

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