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The Blue Bedspread: A Novel

The Blue Bedspread: A Novel

3.6 9
by Raj Kamal Jha

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In the middle of a steamy Calcutta night the phone rings. An unnamed man in a city of millions answers to a voice telling him that his long-lost sister is dead. He must go to the hospital to identify the body and claim his sister's orphaned newborn daughter until she can be adopted the next day.

During the long hot night, the baby sleeps on a bedspread that


In the middle of a steamy Calcutta night the phone rings. An unnamed man in a city of millions answers to a voice telling him that his long-lost sister is dead. He must go to the hospital to identify the body and claim his sister's orphaned newborn daughter until she can be adopted the next day.

During the long hot night, the baby sleeps on a bedspread that used to be indigo blue, but has faded to almost white. As the child lies where the man and his sister used to sleep as children, he quietly writes stories for her, telling of his own childhood full of intensity, anguish, and poetry. He doesn't know his place in the world, but with the help of these stories, the baby someday might.

Raj Kamal Jha's ethereal, poetic prose echoes the loneliness of the human condition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A family legacy of incest, violence, alcoholism and isolation comes under sudden and unflinching scrutiny as an unnamed middle-aged man in present-day Calcutta documents his family history for the future reading of a newborn niece. When the police call late at night to tell him his sister has died in childbirth, the man collects the infant and springs into action, desperately writing down family memories and his own, which he must complete before foster parents come to collect the baby in the morning. As he writes, the tiny girl sleeps on the same blue bedspread that he remembers as a talisman from his own childhood. Shifting back and forth in time he crafts a series of telling vignettes focused principally on his sister, himself, the mother he hardly remembers and his abusive father. Probing universal mysteries of ontology as well as dark family secrets, he strives to reveal the forces that shape all of their identities. First novelist Jha writes a spare, meditative prose, largely bereft of dialogue and grounded in meticulous physical description. Rhythmic repetition and brief flourishes lend the narrative a flavor of traditional oral storytelling, despite contemporary themes. Glimpses of life in India over the narrator's lifetime and carefully selected details--white and gray pigeons, an albino cockroach, foreign magazines, old maps--color a tale that nonetheless has a timeless quality. This is an impressive debut in which Jha achieves an engaging balance between the modern and the classic, the universal and the deeply personal. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
"The Blue Bedspread can be read easily in one sitting. But its images and emotions will linger long after the surprise ending."-USA Today

"A brilliant beginning for a writer whose voice already shows a maturity well beyond his years."-The New York Times

Library Journal
This finely told first novel by Jha, a U.S.-educated Calcutta journalist, concerns a middle-aged man whose sister has just died in childbirth. He makes the funeral arrangements but needs to find a home for her newborn infant. To assure that the child will have an identity when she goes to her adoptive parents, he writes a series of stories about her mother and himself when they were growing up. At the very end, he imagines himself on a stage addressing a large crowd. He decides that, old as he is, he will raise the child himself. This prose is spare and well wrought, and Jha addresses themes similar to those explored in Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. Highly recommended for public libraries.--Ann Irvine, Montgomery Cty. P.L., Silver Spring, MD Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
With young writers like Arundhati Roy, Pankaj Mishra and Amit Chaudhuri appearing on the scene in recent years, Indian fiction seems assured of a bright present and a brilliant future. That conviction gains force with The Blue Bedspread, a first novel by Raj Kamal Jha, an editor at The Indian Express, India's largest newspaper. Jha, who is in his mid-30s, has produced a spare, mysterious and somber tale of erotic violence and illicit love that stays in the mind long after the last page has been turned... In short, The Blue Bedspread is a brilliant beginning for a writer whose voice already shows a maturity well beyond his years.
The New York Times
Anderson Tepper
Jha's highly original novel shimmers with the curious pleasures of stories that slowly emerge from the half-light of memory and grief.
Time Out New York

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
5.78(w) x 8.56(h) x 0.82(d)

Read an Excerpt

I could begin with my name, but forget it, why waste time, it doesnít matter in this city of twelve million names. I could begin with the way I look, but what do I say, I am not a young man anymore, I wear glasses, my stomach droops over the belt of my trousers.

Thereís something wrong with my trousers. The waist, where the loops for the belt are, folds over every time, so if you look at me carefully while I am walking by, on the street or at the bus stop, you will see a flash of white, the cloth they use as lining riding above my belt, peeping out.

There was a time when I would have got embarrassed, sucked in my stomach, breathed deep, held that breath. Or even shouted at the tailor, refused to pay the balance, bought a firmer belt, tightened it by piercing the leather with a few extra holes. But now, why bother?

All that matters is you, my little child, and all I want at this moment is some silence so that you can sleep undisturbed and I can get over with these stories.

I will have to work fast, there isnít much time.
They are coming to take you soon, the man and the woman. They will give you everything you need; they will take you to the Alipore Zoo, to the Birla Planetarium, show you baby monkeys and mother monkeys; the tiny flashlight, shaped like an arrow, that flashes, darts across the huge, black hemispherical dome. They will make faces at the monkeys, you will laugh; they will tell you where Jupiter is, why we have evening and why we have night.

And then, after several summers and several winters, when the city has fattened, its sides spilled over into the villages where the railway tracks are, where thecycle-rickshaws ply, if you grow up into the fine woman I am sure you will, one day you will stop.

Something you will see or hear will remind you of something missing in your heart, perhaps a hole, the blood rushing through it, and then, like a machine that rumbles for a second just before it goes click, just before it begins to hum and move, you will stop and ask: ìWho am I?î
They will then give you these stories.


The house where we are, the room in which you sleep, is on the second floor. From the veranda, you can look down on the tram wires; the streetlight, the yellow sodium vapor lamp, is a couple of feet above you. If you strain your eyes, you can see dead insects trapped in the Plexiglas cover. How they got in I donít know.

Across the street, thereís an oil-refining mill that shut down after a workersí strike long ago. But its owner, I guess, had some of his heart still left, so he continued to pay an old man to look after the dozen pigeons he kept in a cage near the entrance. Half of them are white, the rest are gray, and at least twice every day I stand on the veranda, nothing to do, watching the birds in the cage fly around and around.

White and gray, white and gray, like tiny clouds blown across a patch of imprisoned sky.

We are on Main Circular Road, which connects the north to the south of the city, the airport to the station, and right through the day buses and trams, trucks and taxis keep passing by, making so much noise that itís only now, well past midnight, that the ringing has stopped in my ears: the horns and the brakes, the angry passengers asking the driver to please slow down or stop, bus conductors coughing and spitting, jangling the bells, shouting their destinations in between.

Now itís just the opposite, silence sits in one corner of the house; when I move my head to the right, when I move it to the left, I can hear the stubble on my chin graze my collar, I can hear my breath, even the crick in my neck, some muscle being pulled, perhaps some bone rubbing against some other bone. I am not a young man anymore.

I am not going to type, since the noise may wake you up, the paper being rolled in, my clumsy fingers pushing the keys, the bell that rings at the end of each line, the paper moving up, the page ready to be rolled out.

And somewhere in the middle, if I wish to erase a word or add a letter, fix a comma, I will have to use the All-Purpose Correction Fluid. This means more noise: I will have to shake the glass bottle, open its cap, pull out the brush, let the white drop fall and then blow it dry with my lips. What if the bottle slips, falls on the floor?

At this hour, every sound gets magnified, every ear gets sharper.
I have heard that there are some babies who sleep undisturbed, even during the fireworks festival, dreaming silently to the noise of Catherine wheels and chocolate bombs. And there are some babies who wake up at the slightest of sounds, whose ears are like little funnels made of something like gossamer, ready to tremble, to catch anything in the night. A dog barking a dozen houses away, the wind blowing through the garbage dump, the ceiling fan, the tap dripping in the bathroom, the man beating his wife in the upstairs flat.

So where do I begin?
With you, the baby in my bedroom, on the blue bedspread, no taller than my arm, your tiny fingers curled up, the night resting like a soft cloud on your body. I shall begin with the phone ringing late at night, the police officer telling me that you have come into this city, unseen and unheard.

And once I have told you this story, I shall tell you more, as and when they come. I shall retell some stories, the ones your mother told me, even those that she told not in words, but in gestures and glances. Like that of the black-and-
yellow Boroline Cream banners catching the wind on Durga Puja day; the dead pigeon, its stain carried all across the city; the albino cockroach hanging, upside down, from the bathroom drain.

Or that evening in the maternity ward, when she stood in the room, your mother, in the hospitalís oversize nightdress, looking out of the window at the streetlamps being switched on, one by one.

We shall visit all these places; I shall hold your hand, open all those rooms that need to be opened, word by word, sentence by sentence. I will keep some rooms closed until we are more ready, open others just a chink so that you can take a peek. And at times, without opening a door at all, we shall imagine what lies inside. Like the murder, the screaming, a red handkerchief floating down, just as in the movies.

In short, I will tell you happy stories and I will tell you sad stories. And remember, my child, your truth lies somewhere in between.

What People are Saying About This

John Fowles
Something rather remarkable, almost a coming of age of the Indian novel.
Mary Karr
From the first pages I was drawn in by the mysterious staccato of Jha's prose. This is a major talent.
—Mary Karr, author of The Liar's Club

Meet the Author

Raj Kamal Jha lives in New Delhi, where he is the managing editor of India's largest national newspaper, The Indian Express. This is his first novel.

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Blue Bedspread 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
That person that you used to know
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great storytelling...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I usually read customer reviews before I buy a book. Didn't with this one. Lesson learned. Very stylist writng, but for a good part of the book, I was lost. Moreover, I'm older and have no patience for spending my dwindling hours trying to figure out intricate clues that allow me to follow the story. I consider that to be the author's job. A book shouldn't be work; it should be fun. The book also had a decidely dark edge. The upside is that it's less than half as long as Edgar Sawtelle. Consider yourself warned as to both books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I only bothered to finish it because hey, once you're halfway through a 200 page book, you might as well finish it to make the arduous journey through the first half worthwhile. Highly uninteresting novel, and the writer has a cringe-inducing 'style' that is aaaaaall about gratuitous commas to break up run-on sentences. Don't bother! Don't bother.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had such high expectations for this novel. It started out ok but afterwhile, I got lost and really bored with the book that I couldn't even finish it. Sometimes she rights in a story telling way, another in first person, it got too confusing afterwhile.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jha crafts a well interwoven story of reflection and prediction through changes of narrative style and character emphasis. It is an encapsulating novel that creates a resonant narrative voice in your mind. THis is the voice that carries you through the past, both imagined and real. The reader gets a sepulchral glimpse of life in Calcutta as told through the painful anecdotes of a young boy, brother, and middle aged man.