STARRED REVIEW
January 09, 2018

A home of one’s choosing

By Kushanava Choudhury

Kushanava Choudhury, the child of two scientists from India, spent his childhood moving back and forth between India and the U.S. Although he was born in Buffalo, New York, it was Calcutta that captured his heart. When Choudhury was 12, his parents finally left the city for good for Highland Park, New Jersey, and Choudhury’s world was changed forever. As he explains in The Epic City: The World of the Streets of Calcutta, “All those cricket matches, all the pleasures of my childhood were taken away . . . I lost the capacity to be fully myself.”

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Kushanava Choudhury, the child of two scientists from India, spent his childhood moving back and forth between India and the U.S. Although he was born in Buffalo, New York, it was Calcutta that captured his heart. When Choudhury was 12, his parents finally left the city for good for Highland Park, New Jersey, and Choudhury’s world was changed forever. As he explains in The Epic City: The World of the Streets of Calcutta, “All those cricket matches, all the pleasures of my childhood were taken away . . . I lost the capacity to be fully myself.”

Choudhury kept returning to Calcutta—as a student and summer intern at a city newspaper, and then as a recent graduate of Princeton, and again after earning a Ph.D. in political theory from Yale. His beloved city beckoned him back again and again.

As the city’s rich and varied history swirls about him along the lively streets and sidewalks, Choudhury is not blind to the city’s shortcomings, calling it “the devil’s city” and “one big pisspot.” No matter―the author remains an adept, wonder-filled and thoughtful tour guide. He has experience in this matter, as he must convince his wife, Durba, of Calcutta’s charms. Durba, a fellow Ph.D. student at Yale, grew up in modern New Delhi and despises Calcutta.

Readers grow to understand Calcutta’s complexities and contradictions as Choudhury explains its history and introduces neighborhoods and inhabitants. The Epic City is most compelling when he explores his own past, taking us to his grandmother’s house for her funeral and showing us the two-room house where his father (one of 13 children) grew up.

Despite Calcutta’s difficulties, Choudhury’s passion never wanes. As he so eloquently concludes: “We human beings are not meant to live exclusively indoors. We need to hear the symphony of the street, feel the pavement at our feet. The life outside our door beckons us to a destiny larger than the lonesome murmurs of our souls.”

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The Epic City

The Epic City

By Kushanava Choudhury
Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781635571561

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