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Book || Fall Winter Collections (Koral Dasgupta)

“Not very far away, Sanghamitra is busy with sweet nothings. Dark red flowers that locals call rudrapalash have changed the texture of the soil by covering it with their petals. Of and on, the tree disowns its overmature blooms and they fall on the ground to be picked up by pedestrians. Sanghamitra is busy picking up the better ones among them to be kept in the vase of her living room. She calls them her Fall Winter Collections!”

At first glance, it is easy to mistake Koral Dasgupta’s debut novel ‘Fall Winter Collections’ as yet another piece of pink literature that doubles as a love story. The brilliant cover (co created by the author with Dsgn-unplugged) with its generous sprinkling of the colour ‘basanti’ (reminiscent of the famous Basanta Utsav of Shantiniketan) notwithstanding, it is criminally easy for any conditioned brain at hand to presume that the title being associated with the world of fashion & the author herself being a woman, one is about to walk into a realm of literature adored by many but wilfully ignored by significant others.

The blurb at the back might rope one in with its promises of Shantiniketan and a subtle hint at the depth that the narrative will take one to, yet it fails to do justice to the exquisite piece of epistolary writing that ‘Fall Winter Collections’ eventually turns out to be.

The entries of both Sanghamitra Banerjee and Aniruddh Jain Solanki (the two prime players in the setting) are confessional by nature, thus allowing Dasgupta to veil omniscience with individual narrations, which is turn allocates the author unique opportunities to apply the finer brushstrokes to her two characters.

It is a policy that certainly works in favour of the novel. Even though the reader has a fair insight into the world of Economics professor Sanghamitra, it is Aniruddh (a revered sculptor par excellence) and his actions that bring out hues of Sanghamitra that would otherwise only be subconscious whispers for the natural delights of Shantiniketan to listen to. At close length, it is a quiet study into the working of two minds that are ‘destined’ to fall for each other. But that is merely scratching the surface.

Dasgupta’s novel essentially deals with matters of Faith and Art, of Love and the shuffles of Time that make us architects of our own misery. The first meeting of the two transforming into a debate of theological ideas is as much a trope of classic romance (the ‘disagreement’) as it is an introduction to the mind of a gifted debutante. Dasgupta paints an immaculate picture of faith through the Hindu, missionary schooled Sanghamitra as the latter explains to her father when the man, finding her enthusiastically participating in various Christian rituals, asks her,  “‘Why don’t you convert to Christianity!’ That was a shock! I said, ‘Father, I didn’t know that I am not a part of it already … and if these are not mine then I don’t wish to own them today. I have inherited a faith and I won’t disown my inheritance.’”

Such gems pervade Dasgupta’s novel as she boldly treks into the tricky territory of a ‘successful artist’ with Anirudh. It is hard to paint such a character in literature without infusing a degree of pride or morbid ‘realism’ by sheer instinct. Then again, Anirudh is neither Bengali nor French, and thus it is that much harder to categorise him in a straitjacket much like he does the Bengalis as a ‘race’. Interestingly enough, Anirudh is what a Calcuttan would generally typify as a ‘Marwari’. Hailing from a family that (in his eyes anyway) is straight off the script of any Hindi soap opera about a joint family held together by ties of both blood and commerce, his achievements not only appear astounding as an artist, it is refreshing to see a gifted individual approaching Art without the baggage of austerity attached to the ‘subject’ since childhood or youth, thanks to a superior(?) cultural upbringing.

Thus, Anirudh’s realisations are as profound as they are primal. His academic insights into the workings of artists such as a Ramkinkar Baij or the art of sculpting itself can co-exist with the sinister shadow of an archaic mindset as evident when he berates Sanghamitra who returns home in a wet, clinging outfit, after a bout of helping out the flood prone. The phrases ‘curves are explicit’ and ‘eyes feasting’ could have been clear “signs” to any woman but the one who is transitioning from the outlived collections of the summer and monsoon to the cacophonous, fallen but beautiful hues of autumn/winter.

After all, Rabindranath Tagore’s depictions of pristine love would seldom mould two people to fit their respective jigsaw mark-ups. It would rather be a play of instincts buffered by reason/unreason and mutual admiration that is easier to observe or experience than be put in mere words, much like the short-lived perfections of nature itself.

Even though Sanghamitra’s detachment could mystify Anirudh enough to make her a part of his seminal art piece ‘Krishna’s women’, she appears to be as out of place as any Radha in Anirudh’s larger scheme of earthly conquests. On the other hand, Sanghamitra gets the desire to return to the present from the lifeless cocoon of a dead love, egged on by the sheer abundance of colours that Anirudh comes to signify. Anirudh’s ‘conservative’ family heads thus become a mere extension of her fall winter collections; their unfamiliar customs and ‘rules’ no different in her superior understanding of faith.

At the end of the day, humans must find solace in fellow humans. Love is certainly the best excuse to find that sweet spot.

Requited love is not often the stuff of classics. Whether or not Koral Dasgupta’s debut novel makes that cut is for time to tell. What can be said without caving in to the fiction of time is that ‘Fall Winter Collections’ is a fascinating piece of literature that paints humanity in shades that are beyond the usual barrage of grey. Dasgupta is a gifted fiction artist who has a long way to go. The lucidity of her language wraps her ‘truths’ in crystal showpieces that are to be revisited in times of dark. Even as I am inclined to complain that her two voices are too alike to deceive a discerning reader, it is the sheer depth of her work which makes me wonder whether there might be a certain reason behind it too!

At times, reading a fine novel appears to be a task of creation itself. Approached in trepidation, uncertain but enraptured by its divine flashes. The final stroke is reached at the climax, the brush-ups a melancholic traipse through the rituals of parting – the last few pages. What remains in the end is a memory to behold, that will outlive both you and that stone Michaelangelo that you have come to create in your short life. []

Book: Fall Winter Collections
Author: Koral Dasgupta
Published on April 28, 2015 by
Niyogi Books