Upamanyu Chatterjee: The Last Burden
It’s really just a soap opera. A well-written, enjoyable soap opera but, nevertheless, a soap opera. If the title does not indicate the theme (which it really doesn’t), Chatterjee does so near the end. One truly comes of age not when one’s experienced sex or masturbated or had one’s first period, but when one’s flesh and blood dies. Then one senses how mysterious and confusing living is, that it’s most sensible not to introspect at all on its pith.The story starts when Urmila has an operation for piles and then has a heart attack. Her husband, Shyamanand, her sons Jamun and Burfi and their wives converge on the parental house to look after Urmila. The rest of the novel is a family soap opera culminating, of course, in Urmila’s stroke and death.
The family is a dysfunctional family, like any other family, particularly any other literary family. There are problems between the daughters-in-law and their parents-in-law. There are children problems. There is a problem with their old ayah (a servant), who dies. There are, of course, flashbacks to problems that occurred in the past. As in Chatterjee’s other books, there is the Indian-Western dichotomy at play. But Chatterjee tells a very good story. Everything keeps moving along. The characters clearly have their own individual identities. A good story but not great literature.
First published in English 1993 by Faber and Faber