Book Review: Arzee the Dwarf

Though Chandrahas Choudhury is very well known in the Indian literary circles, ‘Arzee the Dwarf’ is his debut novel. He is a literary critic and regularly reviews for The Observer, The Sunday Telegraph and other reputed publications.
“Little frogs the same colour as the muck were hopping from one spot to another with springy leaps, and becoming invisible once again as soon as they landed. Arzee’s shoes sank into the wet earth, and when he looked back to see if anyone had seen him enter, he could only see his footprints following him all the way in.” – an extract from the book.
Unlike other books today, the book is not only about the story. This book pays the slightest attention to the language too. The description of the environment, characters and their thoughts is meticulous. This book is one of the best examples of contemporary Indian literature. In the age of chic-lit and commercial writers, this is a rare book which shows some hope for Indian literature. As the brickbats and bouquets for the book suggest:
“In a time of starved, anemic prose, the rich, roiling vocabulary of Choudhury’s novel is one delight; its combination of droll humor, pathos, romance and pragmatism another.” – Aamer Hussein, author of ‘Insomnia.’
Arzee has always had a tough life. Brought up in a slum in Mumbai, Arzee has to be tough. Being a dwarf – he faces even bigger challenges. He has to talk to people looking up at them unless he wants to stare at their crotches. He has issues getting girls. He has tough times doing the daily chores which others manage so easily. And most of all people talk about him, mock him and it is these words which hurt him the most.
After all the effort, pain and time he spent in the projection room at the Noor cinema, he is finally happy when the old projectionist retires. He believes he will be made the head now. In his mind all the problems have been solved and his life has been sorted. But he is wrong, infact, he couldn’t have been more wrong.
As the days pass, slowly and steadily his dreams shatter and so does Arzee. Problems of all sorts resurface before his eyes – old debts, a girlfriend from the past, problems with his old mother and the like. While being deeply submerged in his ocean of issues, Arzee loses hope. He gives up on life. His heart breaks and he begins to wonder who he is and why his life is so. He loses everything and along with it loses what he had gained after years of hardship; his dignity and self respect.
Not only is this book a literary delight, it is also a documentation of the tough life in the metropolitan. It documents how a man constantly struggles to prove himself a man. It shows the world in its true sense; bitter and rough. It shows humans as they all are deep within: tender, timid and insecure. This book shows a man through his good times and bad times. It shows little Arzee in his full, big form and shows that no human is too little.
A treat to the mind and delight to the imagination, this book is highly recommended. Though be warned; it is a heavy book. It’s not something you can read while travelling or in a classroom. You need to give the book time and a lot of attention – only then will it unfold in its true colour and power.
In short, this book will not fall dwarf to your expectations.

Dipen Shah

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