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Northern Territory’s best-loved India-born Australian writer Christopher Raja

Chris Raja Source: Chris Raja

Chris Raja has been twice shortlisted for the NT Writers Centre's Chief Minister's Book of the Year Award.

NT’s best-loved India-born Australian writer Christopher Raja

Today, India-born Australian writer Christopher Raja is one of central Australia's best-loved and celebrated literary authors.

Christopher migrated with his parents from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to Melbourne in 1986.

He now lives and works in Alice Springs.

Christopher’s writing (short stories and essays) has appeared in numerous publications.

His co-authored play (with Natasha Raja) – The First Garden – was performed in botanical gardens around Australia and published by Currency Press in 2012.

His debut novel – The Burning Elephant (published by Giramondo) – has been shortlisted for the Northern Territory Writers’ Centre’s Chief Ministers’ Book of the Year Award.

Christopher’s novel is set in Calcutta (or Kolkata) at the time of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

This brutal assassination sparked violence that spread throughout India.

His novel follows the retribution and riots.

In 2016, Christopher appeared at the Ubud writer’s festival in Bali.

The Burning Elephant was launched in China at the 9th annual international conference of the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators, Guangzhou.

Nicholas Jose, the well-known Australian a novelist, essayist and playwright, launching the book noted – “Raja’s writing is lucid and lyrical, replete with lists that find order in chaos and vice versa. His imagination animates the animal life of physicality and appetite in everyone and everything. Hierarchies of being are tumbled and churned. There’s a subtle distance too, even in the most intimate emotional turmoil.”

At the book launch in Melbourne, Sri Lankan-Australian writer and academic Chandani Lokuge, observed – “The Burning Elephant is a subtly layered and textured novel, and will appeal to each reader in a different way.’

“It is a protest against a political system; it is a deeply intimate story about a malfunctioning marital relationship; it is about an intelligent and beautiful woman seeking to escape domestic and cultural oppression, and about her husband who loves her and loses her because he does not understand her. More than all this, it tells the story of a child’s rite of passage as, enmeshed in both domestic and national issues that he does not fully understand, he takes the first humanist steps into adolescence. His innocence is captured iridescently by the author. ­ As a reader and as a mother, I wanted to treasure it;­ it is so transient a moment in our lives. The story washes over us whimsically and in gentle waves,” Lokuge added.

In a review of the novel for the Sydney Morning Herald, Mark Thomas compares the work favourably with JK Rowling, George Orwell and Nicole Kidman's latest film, Lion.

‘Nothing bad happens in Australia?’ asked Govinda.

‘Nothing like this happens in Australia,’ said Sunil Seth. ‘Australia is one of the most gorgeous places in the world.  There are beaches with golden sand.  Islands fringed with palm trees. Oceans full of whales and dolphins.  Snow covered mountains against tranquil green valleys.’

‘You live in a fantasy,’ said Gitanjali anxiously.

‘This is not a fantasy.’ Sunil Seth did everything to show his family that his spirits were high. Yet just as quickly he would explode, saying he was frustrated and tired of ‘corruption and pervasive negativity’ and ‘a lack of leadership.’ (Christopher Raja, The Burning Elephant, p.60)

Mark Thomas notes that in Christopher’s novel – “Australia, with our cricket team and our immigration points system, is depicted as a sort of mirage or fantasy land. All the irony inherent in the phrase, "the lucky country", is played out once again here.”

Although The Burning Elephant is set in India, Christopher says his book is an Australian novel.

Christopher is all geared-up to develop his forthcoming novel ‘The Tiger and the Serpent’ under the prestigious NT Varuna Residency Fellowship 2017 program.

To know more about Christopher Raja’s childhood, work and life in Australia, listen to his conversation with Amit Sarwal.