In The Top of the Raintree, Kamalini Sengupta deftly explores Calcutta in its heyday. Intricate personal, social, political and religious ironies are reflected through the surreal, the mundane and the real. The Rajmahal, a magnificent-turn-of-the-century Calcutta mansion on Chowringhee, is imbued with a life of its own, its spaces inhabited by pigeons, ghosts and a diversity of tenants.
Surjeet Shona, a complex hybrid, gets involved with the tenants, and their problems – a British couple adjusting to the new India, a Russian patron of Bengali theatre overwhelmed by the Great Bengal famine, an Anglo-Indian widow fighting alcoholism, an ageing Bengali fobbing off a younger brother desirous of his inheritance and an elegant Muslim family caught in the post-Partition Hindu-Muslim dichotomy.
Brick by brick, the mansion grows old; chapter by chapter, stereotypes tumble.