The Telegraph
Friday , January 31 , 2014
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Cheesecake & Chaudhuri

As a child, like all children, Amit Chaudhuri too had fantasy careers. But unlike most children, the fantasy didn’t involve becoming an astronaut or an air force pilot, it was becoming a uniformed chauffeur of a car. But on Wednesday, it was veteran journalist Ian Jack who sat firmly in the chauffeur’s seat and steered Chaudhuri through his two decades of writing.

Titled Telling Tales after Chaudhuri’s just-released anthology of essays of the same name, the chat revealed how Chaudhuri started out by submitting poems to small magazines in Bombay, where he grew up and attended the “posh” Cathedral School, of Salman Rushdie fame.

A child of nationalistic middle-class Bengali parents who spoke to him only in Bengali and with servants who spoke to him in Hindi, Chaudhuri arrived in school knowing no English.

So when he began to learn the language and grew to love Ladybird books, he wanted to write... “if only to prove that I did know English,” Chaudhuri smiled.

Did going to England for his higher education encourage him to write, Jack wanted to know. “I went to England for the first time in the 1970s because my father worked for Britannia biscuits. May be it didn’t encourage my writing immediately.... nevertheless I wanted to go back there because of my affinities to English literature as a subject and to writing as a vocation,” said Chaudhuri, though he clarified that it was not like Bombay was “peripheral” and England the “mother country”.

Around 2000, Chaudhuri came back, to care for his ageing parents. He now divides his time between here and the UK, where he teaches.

Having observed the city for a while, he published Calcutta: Two Years in the City in 2013, which among many other things, taught us Calcuttans that what we know and pay a princely sum for is in fact not cheesecake at all!

But does it matter, as long as we’re enjoying having it, he wondered. It was his wit and humour that the audience appreciated the most.