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Reading ‘Letters from an Indian Summer’ is like having delicious mughlai mutton curry for seven days in a row. Mind you, every meal – day and night, night and day – for a week straight. What are the consequences? Well, there’s constipation, gastric problems, acidity for starters – point is, your digestive system does a mini-revolt of sorts. What’s the analogy here, you might think. But more on that later.
Siddharth Dasgupta’s debut novel is the love story of two eternal nomads – Indian photographer Arjun Bedi and French artist Genevieve Casta. A chance encounter in a ramshackle cyber café of Kathmandu blossoms into a connection between the two, which they nurture through intimate letters. However, they eventually fall out of touch with each other’s lives till one day when Arjun runs into Genevieve in a restaurant in his hometown Poona (as the writer calls it). As they try to rekindle the spark that never quite dimmed in the first place, the past rears its head. Will it bring them closer or eventually destroy their relationship?
The novel is, at the same time, many different things. Sometimes it is a romantic tale, sometimes it is a travelogue, on some occasions love letters to different cities (especially Poona, also the author’s hometown), at times a rock n’ roll journey. And it tries really hard and almost manages to pull it off, if only for its excessive dabbling into extremes. For most of the indulgences, after a point of time, start to wear you out.
Which brings us back to the mutton curry analogy. I never imagined I’d have to say this, but the beautiful prose actually presents an interesting problem. Yes, it’s rich, lyrical, exquisite – to say the least. But there is just too much of it – in fact, this novel is full of extremes – perhaps the biggest flaw of what could’ve been a stellar debut. The thing with beautiful prose is that it must delight the reader, provide the ‘aha!’ moment that one experiences on reading something that gives you a sense of fulfilment. But here, it is exactly the other way round.
Despite all of these shortcomings, this book definitely has its moments. Moments that make you want to desperately believe in the love Arjun and Genevieve so strongly feel for one another – for all its appearance of new-age romance, there is a certain old-world charm about these star-crossed lovers.
One of the positives that do come out of the ‘indulgences’ of the author is the characterization, for even the peripheral ones are given their due. One could probably say that even the cities Arjun and Genevieve travel to – be it Benaras, Istanbul or Poona – assume a character of their own as the protagonists find their way around them, discovering something to savour along the way. There are also a lot of deep, meaningful conversations between different characters throughout the plot that are simply enchanting.
‘Letters from an Indian Summer’ is a book that will probably leave you with mixed feelings, but Siddharth Dasgupta’s debut work of fiction is worthwhile in spite of all its flaws. Half a star extra for the gorgeous cover and recommended for the ones romantic at heart.
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