Amit Chaudhuri is the author of seven novels, the latest of which is Friend of My Youth. His most recent book, Finding the Raga, is a work of non-fiction in which he explores his relationship to, and understanding of, North Indian classical music. He is also an essayist, poet, short story writer, singer and composer. James Wood, writing about Chaudhuri in the New Yorker in 2015, said, ‘He has beautifully practiced that “refutation of the spectacular” throughout his career, both as a novelist and as a critic . . . Chaudhuri has made the best case for his aesthetic preferences in his own measured, subtle, light-footed fiction.’ Writing about him in 1993, Wood had said in the Guardian, ‘Chaudhuri writes radiantly exact prose’.
He has written three books of poems: St Cyril Road and other Poems, Sweet Shop and Ramanujan. He has three books of essays: Clearing a Space, Telling Tales and The Origins of Dislike. Among the books he has edited is the Picador/Vintage Book of Modern Indian Literature.
Chaudhuri is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and became Honorary Fellow of the Modern Language Association in 2020. Awards for his fiction include the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Betty Trask Prize, the Encore Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, and the Indian government’s Sahitya Akademi Award. In 2013, he was awarded the first Infosys Prize in the Humanities for outstanding contribution to literary studies, ‘for his imaginative and illuminating writings in literary criticism, which reflect a complex literary sensibility, and great theoretical mastery, along with a probing sense of detail’.
He is a recorded singer in Indian classical music, and is a recipient of the West Bengal government’s Sangeet Samman for his contribution to classical music. Sumit Mitra wrote in India Today, ‘Chaudhuri’s boyish charm may match the subtle elusiveness of his prose but is out of character with the commanding bass of his voice and the lightning taan, delivered with the energy one would associate with only a handful of maestros’. He began his project in experimental music, ‘This Is Not Fusion’, in 2005. David Mossman, the founder of the legendary London jazz club, the Vortex, said, ‘I’ve been working with everyone in jazz for the last twenty years, from Nigel Kennedy to Jamie Cullum. Amit Chaudhuri’s music is one of the most important projects I’ve heard.’
He is Professor of Creative Writing at Ashoka University. In 2015, he began an annual symposium in Calcutta, under the rubric of ‘literary activism’, to create a non-professionalised space for critical discussion on creative practice, raising critical questions no longer explored either in academic ‘conferences’ or literary festivals. This symposium has since take place in Delhi, Oxford and Paris. Chaudhuri curates and edits the website literaryactivism.com.
In the same year, he also began a movement, now known as Calcutta Architectural Legacies, to protect Calcutta’s early twentieth-century non-heritage residential houses, and also to engage with the modernity from which they arose. He is married to Rosinka Chaudhuri, and they have a daughter, Aruna.
‘Chaudhuri writes radiantly exact prose. He appears to carry this talent like a camel its humps, so natural and inescapable and warmly lazy it seems . . . Decades before “autofiction” would become . . . the favoured, modish escape from the strictures of traditional realism . . . Chaudhuri was quietly practising his idiosyncratic version of “a refutation of the spectacular”.’
‘Chaudhuri has already proved he can write better than just about anyone of his generation.’
‘Amit Chaudhuri has, like Proust, perfected the art of the moment. ’
‘His novels are the most internal, psychological, delicately written, introspective of all the contemporary Indian novelists. He’s a great prose stylist; he writes the novels that Virginia Woolf would have written had she grown up in India.’
‘The best living writer of the English sentence.’
‘Abhi, Babla, Sandeep, and Chhordimoni were going to sleep in the large bed. Because the nights were cold and the dawns chilly, a great soft-textured quilt, which yielded to their fingers like bread, had been provided for them . . . The quilt was like a spacious cave in which their legs roamed and scurried with the exuberance of little bears.’
‘Her hair is troublesome and curly; when she was young, it was even thicker than it is now . . . each strand has a gentle, complicated undulation travelling through it, like a mild electric shock or a thrill, that gives it a life of its own; it is visually analogous to a tremolo on a musical note.’
‘It’s not for everyone,’ he concluded. ‘What?’ I asked . . . 'Life,’ he said, and this broke the spell. We turned, and walked into the lane going right, towards the steps to Hanging Gardens and Kamala Nehru Park. ‘It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.’
‘Basant, the springtime raga, must be performed only in the spring; the season and weather, and not just the notes of the composition, are part of the raga’s textuality. The raga is not about the world; it’s of it.’