Upamanyu Chatterjee’s Weight Loss is a sordid tale of Bhola’s “spiritual and sexual degradation”. Bhola, a boy of eleven, is fat, fragmented and addicted to sex all flavors of gross. No person who comes in front of him is spared; he desires men, women and eunuchs alike. Age is not an issue either. When a vegetable vendor, Titli, comes to his door, she and her husband, Moti, become objects of obsession for Bhola; somehow, he feels his unacceptable desires are acceptable among these low-orderly people, and Bhola’s obsession leads him on a single-track road to destruction. As podgy Bhola copulates with Moti, Titli and dozens of other men and women, and progressively degrades himself, he becomes obsessed with "Weight Loss", a dream of becoming slim, a dream of purging himself of desires and becoming “pure”. But in the end, he commits suicide at 37. Bhola’s end is awful, but inevitable.
400 pages of “Weight Loss” is mostly graphic details of Bhola’s unbridled libido, but what redeems it is the fact that it functions merely as a gaudy skeleton upon which Chatterjee hangs a more important idea— that we are, all of us, crippled and twisted. Most of us strive desperately to keep our grotesqueries out of sight and mind, but the truth is, we all have in us a secret pond where evil and ugly things germinate and grow strong. Society functions as a fence, and the swimming brood climbs up only to fall back. Might it not be that in the dark pools of some men, the evil grows strong enough to wriggle over the fence and swim free? Would not such a man be our monster, and are we not related to him in our own hidden water? Holding up a funhouse mirror to all the ugliest parts of humanity and magnifying them a hundred fold, Chatterjee leaves us with a question: Where is Salvation? Or is there Salvation at all? Or is it “only when you die that you cease to feel ridiculous”?
Chatterjee employs a rather laborious style of writing in “Weight Loss”. For example, when Bhola is being punished with a cane in one of his classes, Chatterjee writes, “one of his classmates, Anantaraman, a pale, sensitive, shy, nervous and complex boy, passed out”. So, is becomes a rather tedious, drawn-out, dragging read. Also, Chatterjee writes artlessly and without shame; most sections are so vulgar, I cringed inside.
Weight Loss is a difficult, disturbing, and a draining read. I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed it; gut-punches are hardly enjoyable. But it brings to the table some important ideas and questions, and because these questions stem from a brilliant mind like Chatterjee’s, they are definitely weighty and worthy of consideration. Read it if you dare!
Book Reviewed by Manjushree Hegde
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