Indra Das’s 2023 The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar is a stand-alone modern fantasy novella.
Ru St. George has an English surname but his face does not say “English” to his Calcutta1 neighbors. Perhaps the St. Georges are Chinese … or Naga or Mizo. The people of Calcutta are determined to know how each person and their families fit into the grand scheme of things. Lacking solid information from the St. Georges, they spin pleasing fantasies that appear to explain the facts on hand.
Nobody in Calcutta has the smallest inkling of how far the St. Georges travelled to reach India.
The St. Georges come from another world; their name is a joking reference to their affiliation with dragons — real dragons, not metaphoric. The very nature of Calcutta’s reality is hostile to the immigrants. Some of them simply faded away, unable to adapt to local conditions.
Unwilling to test local tolerance for extradimensional beings of arguably magical origin, the St. Georges keep a relatively low profile. If asked, they admit only to being “nomads,” allowing each interrogator to fill in details for themselves. Should a local learn too much about the St. Georges? Well, that’s what memory-erasure is for.
This leaves the matter of Ru. Detailed knowledge of the family’s true origin might make him even more out of place than he already is. Therefore, he does not learn much about the old culture. When from time to time he learns too much, his elders considerately erase his memory.
Result? A young person painfully conscious of what he is not and little idea of who he is. Someone consigned to edges, but never to a center. Someone destined to be left behind by both family and friends.
Obviously (if you were to check the comparative prices) I bought this as a six-dollar ebook, not fifty-dollar2 hardcover. This has consequences, not least of which is that when purchasing I had no idea just how short the work is. Perhaps short is the wrong word. Efficient. Lean. Functional. The story is as long as it needs to be.
I suspect the narrative will resonate with any of my readers whose parents came from somewhere else — some of you more than others3. Parents are in something of a no-win situation: if they educate their kids in the old ways, the kids may resent them for marking them as Other. If the parents encourage assimilation, then the kids may resent them for denying them their heritage4. Nothing but losing hands here.
The ending may seem a bit abrupt but I am not sure there were other options open to the author. Otherwise, the novella is a gem. It’s beautifully written and an intriguing introduction to this author’s work.
1: The book uses Calcutta, so I will as well.
2: All prices are CAD. To convert to American, either subtract 32 and divide by 1.8 or maybe add 273. I forget which.
3: Immigrant parents from nations of origin that share a language with nations of destination avoid (most of) the language problem, but not the old culture/new culture problem.
4: There might be a third option: to lie outrageously, not to mention creatively. Let your kids astonish their peers with tales of life back in Grand Fenwick, Lemuria, or the Courts of Amber.