THE WEEKENDERS: ADVENTURES IN CALCUTTA edited by ANDREW O'HAGAN

 |   |  1 min read

THE WEEKENDERS: ADVENTURES IN CALCUTTA edited by ANDREW O'HAGAN

According to Gunther Grass the sprawling city of Calcutta is like a pile of shit dropped by God. That may or may not be true, but the Maker’s handmaiden, Mother Teresa, confirmed the impression in the minds of many that this was a city of abject misery peopled by the dying and hopelessly infirm.

Only a fool would deny Calcutta its extensive poverty, but a city of 14 million souls has much else besides. Great wealth lives, often literally, as a neighbour to mendicants and sadhus, street urchins, bewildered post-colonial representatives of European nations, and an educated class of Indians working in call-centres for American companies.

Calcutta — officially Kolkata since January 2001 — is undoubtedly one of the world’s great cities. So it was an excellent choice as the subject of this second in the series The Weekenders, in which a bunch of well-known or acclaimed British writers are dropped in and left to create their own impression of the place.

Bella Bathurst opens with an excellent historical overview of Bengali culture using the Ganges as its starting point, and Colm Toibin takes a sympathetic and engaged view of the work and legacy of Mother Teresa.

Michael Atherton’s fictional story of a father obsessed by cricket is deft and amusing, but Irvine Welsh writes an adolescent spook-story novella that reads like the rough draft for a silly film.

It is a collection not without humour: Tony Hawks writes about laughter and making a spectacle of himself, and Jenny Colgan casts a cynical eye over the poverty: “You can’t even meet a child prozzie any more without tripping over four charity people trying to help her out and lots of other people standing around shaking their heads and taking artistic photographs for broadsheet magazines.”

Yet something rankles: the engagements with Indians seem slight and straining for effect, especially in the fictional pieces. That said, this is an excellent concept for a series (the first about Africa won the WH Smith travel book of the year award in 2002) and Bangkok springs to mind as a possible subject for another — although from some contributors here you would fear the worst.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Writing articles index

MIND OVER MATTER: THE IMAGES OF PINK FLOYD by STORM THORGERSON AND PETER CURZON: Memorable lapses of reason

MIND OVER MATTER: THE IMAGES OF PINK FLOYD by STORM THORGERSON AND PETER CURZON: Memorable lapses of reason

For many Pink Floyd fans the name of photographer/designer Storm Thorgerson conjures up an image of some Scandinavian psychedelic traveller, hair blowing in the breeze as he traverses landscapes of... > Read more

LISTENING TO VAN MORRISON by GREIL MARCUS

LISTENING TO VAN MORRISON by GREIL MARCUS

Music writer Marcus is so well ensconced in the pantheon of great rock writers that his books are universally hailed on publication. But this one -- a series of essays on Morrison's music... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

HELLO KITTY, WANT MY MONEY?: The rise of Japanese pop culture

HELLO KITTY, WANT MY MONEY?: The rise of Japanese pop culture

If you took the idea to the marketing department it would go nowhere. Imagine the pitch: “Hey guys, here’s an idea, just run with me on it for a minute. We create this little blue... > Read more

MARIJUANA: My life in a happy place; no apologies

MARIJUANA: My life in a happy place; no apologies

As the 21st century dawned there was considerable argument in New Zealand about whether marijuana should be decriminalist, a debate prompted by a Green MP Nandor Tanczos attempting to bring a bill... > Read more