Book Review: Letters From An Indian Summer
Fiercely independent and free flowing spirits finding anchors has been a long written about narrative. Two soul-mates over-analyzing their overtly obvious connection, eventually coming of age, and finally, defining their relationship is a script that Ranbir Kapoor has made a career out of. Yet, to dismiss the book as just such a story would be a disservice to it.
Siddharth Dasgupta’s debut novel, Letters From An Indian Summer, is less a novel, more an elegy. It’s a celebration of Arjun Bedi and Genevieve Casta’s love story, through letters and meetings, destiny and serendipity spread over 5 years and many countries. From Poona to Kathmandu to Delhi to Goa, Siddharth turns montages into sonnets, just as is human nature all but succeeds in destroying a love story that is destined to happen.
Letters From An Indian Summer carries generous doses of Before Sunrise/ Before Sunset, When Harry Met Sally (and Hum Tum, closer home) and maybe a few flourishes of Midnight in Paris. Beautiful modern love stories that are caught in their own sepia tinted imagination.
What really works for the book is that the eyes of a keen observer have found the pen of a lucid writer. Arjun travels through Poona (not Pune), Benares (not Varanasi), Delhi (not Dilli!), Paris, Dubai, and many other places through the lens of a photographer. Some of the moments are so well described that you can see the visuals unfold in front of your eyes. Siddharth gets into the nooks and crannies of the cities and brings them to life with their unique colors and soul.
Therein lies the celebration. Therein lies the failure.
Well before the story begins, one knows the road it must take. The betrayal is not as much a shock as it is a not so blind turn, and seems a little too forced. Arjun’s story has a lot more depth than Genevieve’s. It’s a man’s interpretation of Genevieve. But then, the book is written from Arjun’s perspective, not from Genevieve’s. Not explicitly. But in plain obvious sight. Like watching Kamal Hassan pull off a Chachi 420. It’s not bad. But it’s not adequate. And it’s definitely not 100% Genevieve. Or, so it seems.
Genevieve’s language also is frequently inconsistent and not unique. One would expect one of two things – a strong French influence on her writing, or an insufficiency of written words when the two communicate over letters. It seems inappropriate when both set of letters follow a similar song and dance in their style. The voice of Genevieve is unapologetically British at times, yeah.
Siddharth is an advertising/creative guy, so I am reasonably sure the multi-dimensional conversations come easy to him. I would guess that he comes from a variety of influences, and is able to absorb most new ones in his work. He does so quite well in the book.
Editing fails the book. There are characters introduced hurriedly. Anko is probably a rarity amongst many, who gets a fair deal. Others, not so much. Unless you count the cities as the real characters of the book. Almost all of them seem like chess pieces deliberately put together on the chessboard once you’ve decided where the rival kings are on the board. Goal – checkmate in one. The last section of the book is so hurried that lazy beauty of the Benares, Delhi and Poona seem like excerpts from another book. Run out of pages! That’s the feel you get. Worse still, towards the end of the book, Genevieve feels like a radically different person than the one you meet at the beginning of the book. And poor Jacques reminded me of Rahul Khanna, the guy who gets dumped unceremoniously in all movies for no real fault of his. Oh, he is nice, but…
More importantly, I believe the book should have been shorter. The letters are short, and the interludes of now longer. Deliberate? The poetry overtakes the story-telling on many occasions. There are pages and pages of serenading the city and the moment and the postures and places. There are unnecessary diversions that don’t add much to the story. But like I said in the beginning, it is an elegy. Don’t fret too much about the what next, and enjoy the now – in its details, in all its hues, in all its strength and frailties. You might just like the book a lot more.
I will go in for a 2 on 5 for the book. It reminded me of the first time I had sizzlers. Someone else had ordered in on some other table in the restaurant. It promised a lot of sizzle and excitement. And it delivered on that very well! But once the show was over, the taste was passable.
On a side note, I am planning to google almost all the new establishments that Siddharth has mentioned in his book, across cities. Starting with Poona and Delhi, of course. I am going to always be grateful to him for those recommendations! A 5 on 5 for that along with a fist bump.
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