Notes from a Chinese restaurant

For a couple of years at the start of this decade, I lived above a small Chinese restaurant in central Mumbai.

Published: 19th May 2019 10:51 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th May 2019 10:51 AM   |  A+A-

Days of My China Dragon

Chandrahas Choudhury’s Days of My China Dragon (Simon & Schuster India, 224 pages, Rs 319), offers an insight into life in a restaurant behind the cash counter. It’s about that wonderful conjunction where fried rice, fellowship and faffery come together within the four walls. Choudhury, who lives in Delhi, studied English, first at Hindu College in Delhi and then at Trinity College, Cambridge. Other than writing, cooking and football are his passions. Edited excerpts: 

Chandrahas Choudhury

How did you go about writing Days of My China Dragon? 
For a couple of years at the start of this decade, I lived above a small Chinese restaurant in central Mumbai. I became friends with the staff and began to feel part of the establishment. The book is about a wonderful, dramatic theatre that is a restaurant and all the people who pass through its world, take something from it and give something back. People share so much more of themselves when a meal is involved. 

Where and when did the character Jigar take birth? Have you ever come across a character like his at a Mumbai restaurant?

The book needed a voice more intimate than a third-person’s storytelling voice. As many of the characters in the book only appear once, it needed a common thread to hold all the stories together. Naturally, the best point of view seemed to be that of the proprietor of the restaurant, simultaneously part of the action and above it. 

I had a very good model, because the proprietor of the actual restaurant on which the book is based, Rupesh Pai, was a first-rate example of a Mumbai businessman: able to speak several languages, keep his cool in times of stress, think on his feet, and find a laugh in every experience. This seemed to be the root of the philosophy of China Dragon, and I put that as the base note of the book: Jigar Pala’s hospitable and generous soul.

What if your book doesn’t get good reviews?
It’s disappointing, but there’s nothing to be done about it: the work is already done. Hold no grudges and move on.
In your opinion, what is that one thing which is the most important part of a book?
Finding the right tone to tell the story in.

Is writing energising or exhausting?
Both. That’s how it should be. The highs of writing are as close as any artist can come to feeling a kind of divine communion with the world and with life. For the sake of such moments, almost any sacrifice is worth it.

What does ‘creative’ for you mean?
Overused in the arts, underused in love.

Best way to market a creative work?
I wouldn’t know. I think of some little idea for each book depending on the material in it. For my last book Clouds, we had a ‘cloud music night’ at the Royal Opera House in Bombay with songs on clouds and rains in all Bombay languages. For this one, we’re having a launch in Kolkata this month in an actual Chinese restaurant.

Any book/author that inspired you to take up writing?
Two people who have been of great use to me are Willa 
Cather and Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay.

What does it take to be good storyteller?
A love for life with all its little details and for words, both. And the ability to imagine lives that are very different from one’s own.

Days of My China Dragon by Chandrahas Choudhury
Simon & Schuster India 224 pages, Rs 319 

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