Ordinary Human Language

by Brian Crane

The Bachelor of Arts

-Book Cover

In the small bookstore in Hampi Bazaar (there were probably less than 100 books), I found a pile of Malgudi novels in Indian editions. I bought two of them, not knowing the author’s name at all. But a writer from and writing about Tamil Nadu that is clearly well-known in the west seemed perfect travel reading.

But The B.A. didn’t move me much at first. I even wondered at the end if I had an imperfect edition: the action simply stops on the last page: were chapters (or the last chapter’s end) missing? In the following weeks though, the novel has grown on me, and I’ve come to think it’s a lot better than I first believed.

This is writing that follows a significant story and lays out its contours clearly and honestly. But it’s also sparse. Commentary on the action comes mostly from statements of characters’ thoughts. Symbols and other ostentatious literary effects have been peeled away leaving only a bare presentation of events. The novel, oddly enough, seems not to exist in this report of events. What was this story thinking about? I couldn’t say.

But with time, what seemed sparse begin to settle, to take root and to reveal its form and proportion: a youth loves recklessly then lives as a renunciant wandering about, alone and eating what he can beg, living as a holy man without knowing it for eight months and then comes back home, an adult ready to work and find new love. The flatness of the presentation leaves the significance of the events implicit, but I’ve decided there is depth here. Coming of age, personal awakening, the nature of love, parenting, tradition, friendship, art and work. The B.A. speaks to them all without contempt or cynicism. I’m not sure I’m interested enough to try to plumb those depths though.

I think students might like this book.

June 2011. Panjim, India

Posted August 24, 2011