Speaking to Chaudhuri, one feels caught in those societal cracksbetween the old world of Bengali poets and bookshops captured in several stories and the uncertain signposts of a new, international culture, "the sort of junkyard that makes up our lives now." But this is a familiar position for Chaudhuri, whose critical work has helped bridge those gaps, too, providing much-needed perspective to the recent boom in Indian novels. "I don't like living in an intellectual context in which you only refer to other contemporary writers whom you never meet," he says flatly. Fortunately, he's avoided that: He's recently edited The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature, an accomplished, expansive look at the diverse literary traditions of Indiafrom the Bengal Renaissance and other literature in vernacular or regional languages to neglected work in English before and after Rushdie. The anthology is actually a fitting rejoinder to Rushdie's own 1997 collection, Mirrorwork, which limited its scope to post-independence writing in English.
As we part outside the Calcutta Club entrance, Chaudhuri hurries off to catch the end of a poetry reading down the street. Here is a place where past and present, music, art, and literature, continue to converge. And where Chaudhuri, like mastermoshai in "Portrait of an Artist," has found his creative essence: "Calcutta is his universe; like a dewdrop, it holds within it the light and colours of the entire world."