Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss: A Novel

Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss: A Novel

by Rajeev Balasubramanyam


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Follow the eccentric, cantankerous, utterly charming Professor Chandra as he tries to answer the biggest question of all: What makes us happy?

“Searingly funny, uplifting, and wonderful . . . Professor Chandra is as unbending a curmudgeon as one could wish to find scowling from the pages of a novel.”—Helen Simonson, New York Times bestselling author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and The Summer Before the War

Professor Chandra is an internationally renowned economist, divorced father of three (quite frankly baffling) children, recent victim of a bicycle hit-and-run—but so much more than the sum of his parts.

In the moments after the accident, Professor Chandra doesn’t see his life flash before his eyes but his life’s work. He’s just narrowly missed the Nobel Prize (again), and even though he knows he should get straight back to his pie charts, his doctor has other ideas.

All this work. All this success. All this stress. It’s killing him. He needs to take a break, start enjoying himself. In short, says his doctor, he should follow his bliss. Professor Chandra doesn’t know it yet, but he’s about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.

Praise for Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss

“Professor Chandra is a wonderful character—stodgy, flawed, contentious, contemptuous—yet vulnerable, insecure, lonely, repentant, and ridiculous enough to win our sympathy. . . . In the end, Balasubramanyam’s novel is a sort of Christmas Carol for a new age.”—NPR

“Impressively, Balasubramanyam . . . balances satire and self-enlightenment [in] a surprisingly soulful family tale that echoes Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections in its witty exploration of three children trying to free themselves from the influence of their parents.”The Guardian 

“Funny from start to finish . . . Spending time with Professor Chandra feels like you’ve been in therapy, in a good way.”Irish Times 

“Funny, affecting . . . Chandra is a delightful creation: peevish, intolerant, intellectually exacting, unwittingly eccentric, nerdy, needy yet lovable. The book, like its picaresque hero, is a one-off.”The Sunday Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525511380
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/26/2019
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 165,666
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Rajeev Balasubramanyam was born in Lancashire and studied at Oxford, Cambridge, and Lancaster universities. He is the prize-winning author of In Beautiful Disguises. He has lived in London, Manchester, Suffolk, Kathmandu, and Hong Kong, where he was a Research Scholar in the Society of Scholars at Hong Kong University. He was a fellow of the Hemera Foundation, for writers with a meditation practice, and has been writer-in-residence at Crestone Zen Mountain Center and the Zen Center of New York City. His journalism and short fiction have appeared in The Washington Post, The Economist, New Statesman, London Review of Books, The Paris Review, McSweeney’s, and many others. He currently lives and works in Berlin.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

It should have been the greatest day of his life. His youngest daughter, Jasmine, had flown from Colorado to share in his triumph. There had been pieces in the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal which were all but premature celebrations: “Like Usain Bolt in the hundred,” the former read, “like Mrs. Clinton in November, this is one front-runner who cannot lose.” The Academy were famous for their secrecy, their cloak-and-dagger strategies to stave off leaks, but this time even the bookies agreed—the Nobel Prize in Economics 2016 belonged to Professor Chandra.

He did not sleep that night, only lay in bed imagining how he would celebrate. There would be interviews, of course, CNN, BBC, Sky, after which he would take Jasmine out for an early brunch before her flight, perhaps allowing her a glass or two of champagne. By evening the college would have organized a function somewhere in Cambridge. His competitors would be there, all the naysayers and back­stabbers and mediocrities, but Chandra would be magnanimous. He would explain how the million-dollar check and the banquet in December with the King of Sweden meant nothing to him. His real joy lay in being able to repay the faith shown by his departed parents, trusted colleagues, and his old mentor, Milton Friedman, who had once helped him change his tire in the snow in the days when Chandra was still a lowly Associate Professor.

By midmorning he had rehearsed his victory speech a dozen times. Still in his dressing gown, he brought a cup of coffee to his bedroom and placed it by the telephone before stretching out on the bed, his hands behind his head, in anticipation of the call. An hour later his daughter entered to find him snoring on top of the covers.

“Dad, wake up,” said Jasmine, shaking his foot. “Dad, you didn’t get it.”

Chandra did not move. He had waited so long for this, ­suffered through so much; his BA at Hyderabad, his PhD at Cambridge, his first job at the LSE, that punishing decade at Chicago and, after his return to Cambridge, the crash of 2008, the instant vilification of his tribe, the doubts, the pies in face, and every year afterward the knowledge that though his name had been on the committee’s longlist in April and their shortlist in the summer, that 18-carat-gold medal had still ended up in someone else’s fist. This was the year his ordeal was supposed to end, the year that should have made it all worthwhile.

“And who, may I ask, was the lucky recipient this time?”

“There were two of them,” said Jasmine.

Chandra jerked his body erect, shoved two pillows behind his back, his reading glasses onto his nose.


“Can’t remember.”


“Heart and Stroganoff, something like that.”

Chandra groaned. “Not Hart and Holmström?”

“Yeah. I think so.”

“So who will it be next year? Starsky and Hutch?”

“I don’t know, Dad. Maybe.”

“Well, that’s that, then,” he said, pulling the covers over his body and realizing that, were it not for his daughter, he would probably remain in that position until next year.

Ten minutes later Jasmine returned to tell him that a group of journalists were outside the house. Chandra met them, still in his dressing gown, and politely answered their questions. It was his daughter’s idea to invite them in for coffee, which meant he ended up sitting at his kitchen table with four members of the local press: one from the Grantchester Gazette, one from the Anglia Post, and two from the Cambs Times.

“We’re so sorry, sir,” said a young woman from the Gazette, who appeared close to tears.

“It was yours,” said the man from the Times, who smelled of gin. “We were hoping for a fine party tonight.”

“Well, now, now,” he replied, touched by their kindness. “C’est la vie.”

“It should have been you, sir,” said the woman. “It simply should have been you.”

“Oh, de rien, de rien,” he said, wishing he could stop speaking French, a language he had no knowledge of at all. “Laissez-faire.”

Before the journalists left he assured them he was delighted for the winners and was glad it was all over and was looking forward to seeing them again next year. His performance fooled everyone except for Jasmine who for the rest of the morning repeated the same sentence with a seventeen-year-old’s mercilessness, asking, “Are you all right, Dad? Are you all right?” keeping at it no matter what he said until finally, on the way to the airport, he lost his temper and shouted, “Can’t you see I’m fine?”

In the past he would have assumed Jasmine’s inquisition was motivated only by sweetness and concern, but now Chandra was convinced there was malice involved, that Jasmine had finally entered into the family tradition of torturing the patriarch, if this was what he still was, for she was a teenager now and lived with her mother in Boulder who blamed him not only for the divorce, three years old now, but also for the rise of Ebola and Boko Haram.

As soon as he reached home the phone began to ring with a stream of condolence calls that continued throughout the day and then, more sporadically, for the rest of the week. For the following month people he barely knew stopped him in the street to offer their sympathies, men and women who couldn’t have named three economists had their lives depended on it.

By November the hysteria had died down, replaced by horror at the U.S. election, and it was then that Chandra realized, in all probability, he would never win the prize now. The odds had gone down a decade before when the Bengali had worked his unctuous charm, but even if time enough elapsed for ­another Indian to win, the field had changed. For years eco­nomists had wantonly obscured their profession, rendering everything absurdly technical with incompressible logarithms such that they were treated more like mystic seers than social scientists. Economics was little more than a poor man’s ­mathematics now, but Chandra still struggled with calculus, ­considering it beneath him, a task for a penniless research assistant.

In any case, his slide to the right was hardly something the Scandinavians were likely to reward; that sub-subcontinent of mediocrity would consider it a signal of intellectual and moral deviance. It was what Chandra loathed most about liberals—their shameless self-righteousness, as if the species’ failings were always someone else’s fault, while anything they did, murder and arson included, were heroic acts in the service of liberty and justice. In point of fact, the Swedes weren’t even liberals. They were neutrals, abstainers who behaved as if they had deliberately chosen not to become a superpower in the interests of preserving their objectivity.

Chandra wished he had just one Swedish student he could torment mercilessly, but the closest thing was a Dutch girl with an American accent who was, regrettably, quite bright. And so he went on giving his lectures and affecting the appearance of a man too wrapped up in his own research to notice that such a petty and trivial thing as the Nobel Prize even existed.

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Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss: A Novel 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Piney10 16 days ago
I would rate this a 3.5. If you liked a Man Called Ove and the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry you probably will like Professor Chandra Follows his Bliss. It’s about a curmudgeon but although I did not like the other two curmudgeonly novels, I did find this one more enjoyable. It’s witty, funny, and more realistic than the two others. The writing was good and characters all interesting. It also was a little more fully dimensional in that it touched on more issues than just the curmudgeon protagonist.
LHill2110 4 months ago
Writing: 5 Plot: 4.5 Characters: 4.5 69-year old leading Cambridge economist Professor Chandra is a shoe-in for the Nobel prize in Economics — except that he doesn’t get it. Divorced, distant from his three children, and frustrated with the new tenor of academic life, this “non event” coupled with a silent heart attack sends him off on an unintended, Siddhartha-like quest for personal enlightenment (naturally starting with a sabbatical at UC Bella Vista in Southern California). His journey takes him to unlikely places — both physical and emotional. He is tricked into attending a weekend workshop at Esalen; he visits his ex-wife and new, annoying husband in Boulder in order to see his troubled daughter Jasmine; he searches for a way to reach his middle daughter Radha — an angry Marxist who hasn’t spoken to her conservative father in over two years; and visits his son Sunil’s highly successful Hong Kong-based “School for Mindful Business” (based on principles completely antithetical to his own). He learns that he is human and not infallible and finds himself more OK with that than he would have expected. Excellent and insightful writing — wry and witty with deliciously pithy and often hysterical articulations of his evolving viewpoints. Lots of interesting commentary about psychology, economics, spirituality, achievement and the personal search for meaning and happiness. I appreciate that while he learns more about himself, his priorities, and his relationships, he does not relinquish his intellectual interests or accomplishments. Some great lines: Brief but scathing summary of the identity politics Radha adheres to: “‘West’ … ‘bourgeois’ … ‘capitalist’ … these words would fly from her lips like tiny swastikas, her knuckles turning white, her jaw clenched, her eyes hard as Siberian pickaxes as she sentenced most of the world to the gulag for their crimes against ideology.” “An Indian Miss Havisham with an Emeritus Professorship and a takeaway menu.” “… but he couldn’t help believing meditation was best suited to those with less mind to be mindful of: sociologists, for example, or geologists” “Humans were like those snowflakes against the window, buffeted by winds no one understood.” “Chandra accepted the phone as if he’d been handed a small but quite genuine lump of plutonium.” “They seem to come pre-offended, forsaking any analytical content in favor of emotion and outrage.” “But the undergraduates were even worse than in Cambridge: arrogant, unhygenic, and brazen, convinced that lazy platitudes and fallacious arguments would earn them nothing but praise if delivered with sufficient conviction.” “King’s was Chandra’s least favorite college. It was the intellectual equivalent of a Disney princess, fluttering its eyelashes at tourists who didn’t know any better.” “It was what Chandra loathed most about liberals — their shameless self-righteousness, as if the species’ failings were always someone else’s fault, while anything they did, murder and arson included, were heroic acts in the service of liberty and justice.”
Xkoqueen 4 months ago
I had high hopes for Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss, but I was disappointed. What I thought would be a humorous, relatively light-hearted book was really a satire where author Ravjeev Balasubramanyam mocks American culture and perhaps empirically proves you can't teach an old dog a new trick. Chandra is not a lovable curmudgeon like those found in A Man Called Ove or The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper. He is self-centered and pompous. He alienated his wife and children with his singular focus on his aspirations for world recognition of his belief in his brilliance. His ex-wife, Jean, and their children aren’t any more likable. Steve—Jean’s new husband—is the tool through which author Balasubramanyam pokes fun of what he perceives to be modern America. While Steve and his compatriots at the Esalen Institute are accepting and somewhat likable characters, Chandra and his estranged family are a mess of judgment and self-absorption. From the synopsis, I thought this book would be funny, but it wasn’t. I was looking forward to quirky characters and a madcap journey to enlightenment. Instead I got stiff characters and flat "adventures". There were bits that were mildly amusing, but they didn't really grabbed me. Chandra is too pedantic to ever find “his bliss”. Yet the author wants his readers to believe that a few days spent at Esalen in hot tub therapy leads his stereotypical main character to enlightenment. However, Chandra shows little in the way of epiphanic metamorphosis. The inadequate exploration of Chandra’s relationships with his offspring and their continuing discord was dissatisfying. Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss shows off the author’s knowledge--or research--of the study of economics, and the book seemingly reflects the author’s view of Americans. It did present some meaty family issues, but the story fell flat in terms of addressing those familial conflicts. Perhaps that is more realistic, but it wasn’t particularly satisfying. Sadly, unsatisfying is probably the best descriptor for this book.
EmMaxwell 5 months ago
What a great book for book clubs! Professor Chandra and his Cambridge colleagues thought he would get the 2016 Nobel Prize in economics, but on announcement day he’s passed over; put on furlough for calling a female student an imbecile; run into by a bicyclist, and finds out he's had a silent heart attack. He spends his 70th birthday alone: rich, respected, divorced, and mostly estranged from his kids. He has moments of kindness to protégées, but he's a grumpy old man. His son is rich from telling people how to succeed in business through affirmations, his oldest daughter is a radical and doesn’t talk to him anymore, and his ex lives in Boulder with her psychologist husband and the youngest daughter, a high school senior who gets involved with drugs. This allows Chandra to escape from the mess of his life in England. He goes to Boulder in attempt to fix his daughter. Professor Chandra is not a likeable dude—until he punches laid-back Steve ("Kids experiment!") in the nose, and Steve manipulates him into a weekend retreat at Esalen. "Being Who You Are at Summer Solstice" is not where or who Chandra wants to be, but he starts asking some questions and observing himself. Conservative intellectual meets emotional woo-woo, and the humor and growth begin. It’s challenging to read about your country from a foreigner’s viewpoint, just as it’s challenging to see yourself through someone else’s eyes—and yet modernity has shown us we’re all more alike than different, adopting what pleases us and complaining about the rest. So much fodder for book club exploration and talk: generational, cultural, political and societal divides, with heart and humor the only options for authentic connection. This is really a story of coming to an accommodation with an ever-changing, confusing world, coming to terms with life as an elder. I’d love to know what other folks think about it, too: the best kind of book club book. Recommended! (Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a digital review copy!)
JeanK 5 months ago
Is it ever too late to change your life and learn the meaning of happiness? Passed over by the Nobel committee for the prize in Economics, Professor Chandra feels that he will never be truly recognized for his accomplishments in his field. Approaching 70, divorced and separated from his three adult children, he spends his time in his office at Cambridge or at home. Other than his field of expertise, he is out of touch with his students and the world in general. In a moment of inattention, he is involved in an accident. Under constant stress and now injured, he suffers a minor heart attack. With complaints from several students of verbal abuse and his current health issues, it is suggested that he take time off. Contacts in California enable him to arrange a series of lectures and gives him the opportunity to visit his ex-wife Jean and youngest daughter. An encounter with Jean’s current husband leads to an opportunity to attend the Esalen Institute, enrolling in a course called Being Yourself in the Summer Solstice. Uncomfortable at first, he begins to make connections with some of th other attendees and discovers that it is never too late to learn and change. Rajeev Balasubramanyam has created a character that is brilliant, pompous and so involved with his own career that he fails to see the needs of his family. As the attendees at the Institute reveal their own troubles and look for solutions, he considers his relationship with his own family. This is a journey of reflection that is filled with humor and is beautifully written. Professor Chandra is a character that stays with you long after the last page has been read. This is a book that I would highly recommend. I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House for providing a copy of this book for my review.
CapriciousNiteOwl 5 months ago
This book is a slow moving, character driven, family drama. There is no action, twist and turns, so for all the thriller/suspense/mystery book lovers this may be a monotonous read. But there is a really good message that I have taken away from this book: that no matter how busy and ambitious we are in our lives, we always need to take time for our loved ones. We really need to hear them out, and try to understand their ways, because if we don’t, one day we may find ourselves very much alone. Professor Chandra is a 69-year old economics professor at Cambridge. He is a workaholic and he has no time for his family. His wife left him for another man and his children barely talk to him. In fact, he’s been estranged from his older daughter for years. He is judgmental, controlling, and he constantly argues with his kids. But then one day an accident happens, and Professor Chandra realizes that perhaps he is the problem and not his kids, and maybe he’s the one that needs to make some changes in his life to regain the love and respect of his children. I wanted to quit reading this novel at 20%. I could not connect with Professor Chandra's character and his story. He is not a likable character, and his eccentric and arrogant personality was getting on my nerves. I did not like the way he treated his children and I was put-off by his narrow-minded thinking. But then I though, why not give him a chance to redeem himself? And good thing I did, because at the end of the story I really enjoyed Professor Chandra’s character, and now I have a special spot for him in my heart :) Thank you Netgalley, Random House Publishing, and the author, Rajeev Balasubramanyam, for giving me an opportunity to read an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
KarenfromDothan 5 months ago
Professor Chandra is a Cambridge tenured professor of economics. He is world renowned in his field. In fact he’s been up for the Nobel prize on numerous occasions. He’s a very driven man, prideful, and lonely. He’s 69 years old, divorced, and has a strained relationship with his three children. Following a freak accident, his doctor tells him, “You gotta follow your bliss, man.” With Chandra though, that’s easier said than done. I thought the novel was going to be much funnier. If anything, I felt a little sad for the Professor. He has distinguished himself in the field of academia, but at a steep personal cost. I think the story serves as a wake-up call to people everywhere, reminding us to live life to the fullest. I thought it was a great story, with lots of insights, well worth a read.