Rajorshi Chakraborti's latest novel Shakti has the strength of characters and an irresistible pace to its advantage. His unforgettable heroines unfold a tale of courage fighting the darkness that they are doomed to, and a journey across a country in the throes of profound transformation.
Calcutta, under right-wing, nationalist leadership, serves as a perfect backdrop and the three contrasting women find themselves wielding magical powers that match their wildest dreams. However, like all good things, this too comes at a price, - a Faustian price at that.
The readers come across three main characters - Arati, a seamstress who supplements her income by cooking and cleaning in a hand-full of households in the city; Jaya, a teacher at a conservative school who sends across social awareness messages in an agony column of a publication on subjects such as masturbation for the "first time"in the guise of a man called Chandra; and Shivani, a 15-year-old girl troubled by the fact that her mind has the strength to perform feats that are, to some extent, supernatural. She feels she could throw her maid's daughter to the ground floor from the first and bring her back unhurt - all with her mind.
Chakraborti uses the flashback, flash-forward technique. Readers travel back and fourth in time, traversing the length and breadth of the country while delving deep into the psyche of his heroines. Because you know their origins, you can't help but sympathise with some of their questionable acts.
One of the most interesting characters in the novel is Ravi Tarun, the husband of Karishma and Shivani's step-dad. At some point Chakraborti makes the story a little surreal, to the point of being bizarre. In a quirky turn of events, Tarun enters Jaya’s soul and engages in a conversation with her about the "higher ones" giving her and the others the ‘shakti’. He offers Jaya her own YouTube web series after realising she was really good at playing Chandra. And it's almost comical when Tarun tells Jaya she would be working solely with Spielberg - a ludicrous proposition. He asks Jaya to consider it.
Tarun tells her how he started his professional journey as a university lecturer but realised soon that "four-hour faculty meetings" weren't his cup of tea. He admires Jaya's years of selfless teaching, or if it can be called preaching, as Chandra Sir at great personal risk of losing her livelihood and reputation.
Interestingly, Chakraborti sets the major portion of his novel in Calcutta like his compelling debut Or The Day Seizes You. But, while there was some similarity between the author and the protagonist of his debut novel, this is not at all the case with Shakti.