‘Sisi-Magar became my boat, and straddled on its back I was transformed into a sea-god—one who defied the elements and to whom the wind and the waves paid homage. They no longer raved about death, but spoke of abundant life.’
A young orphan leaves for Calcutta, full of hope, to attend university there. But, on reaching the city, he finds he has been betrayed and left penniless and homeless by Jogin-Da, the guardian whom he respected and blindly trusted. Even as he scours the streets of Calcutta for shelter and sustenance, the young man finds himself drawn to the city’s glorious past, and repelled by the religious prejudices and narrowmindedness of its residents. At university, too, he comes into conflict with his peers who thoughtlessly ape Western culture and ignore the best parts of their own traditions. In a time of gathering disillusionment and disappointment, the young man finds a mentor in an ageing professor, Profulla Babu, and love—of a sort—with his Latin tutor, Roma. He receives a chance at redemption, too, after he befriends Sisi-Magar, a tame porpoise in a temple pond, which he must set free in the Ganges.
Published in 1953 and now being reissued for the first time in more than half a century, The Vermilion Boat is the third novel in Sudhin N. Ghose’s quartet which follows the life and career of an unnamed young man. As much a coming-of-age story as an account of the making of the great metropolis of Calcutta, The Vermilion Boat brings together history, legend and myth to create a rich, sprawling narrative.