Once during an intense conversation, a friend of mine told me that the Indian regional literature is much more forward thinking than what it appears to be. Far far more than what we are still fighting for in English. And then he recommended me Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar.
I didn’t think much of it and put it in the back burner, like I usually do. Out of a whim I picked this without much expectations, thanks to the weird experiences I had with other Indian books written in English. So let us see how the Cobalt Blue turned out, shall we?
About the book
Book Name: Cobalt Blue
Author: Sachin Kundalkar, Translated by Jerry Pinto
Characters: Tanay, Anuja and Aseem Joshi, the tenant aka the painter
Set in Pune, a tier one Indian city, Cobalt Blue revolves around siblings Tanay and Anuja and their typical middle class Maharashtrian family. Their elder brother Aseem conforms to the norms of the society in every sense.
And to make their ends meet they taken in a youthful painter whose independent, carefree attitude is almost infectious as a paying tenant. He occupies the single bed room that their grandparents had used when they were alive and still has the lingering scent of Amurtanjan, (a pain relief balm) used by them.
The book consists of two parts. The first is a second person narrative of Tanay addressing the tenant and talks about their loving relationship and how hurtful it is to live without him. And slowly the reason why the tenant is not living with them anymore is revealed.
The second part forms Anuja’s narration, set about six months after she returns home after her elopement with the tenant. Her diary entries tell us more about the events that led her to fall for the tenant, their elopement and him subsequently abandoning her.
Both Tanay and Anuja hadn’t realized that they had fallen for the same person. How their conservative family handle to the fact their young children falling for the same person and how the siblings handle their broken hearts form the rest of Cobalt Blue.
My initial thoughts
I loved the unusual story and it was not very apparent initially that the siblings loved the same person which made it more interesting. I felt connected to their family setting almost immediately. I was fascinated how seamlessly the author interwove not only the themes of homosexual and heterosexual love, but also the family’s love to their off springs despite how difficult and new it was for them.
It was quite ironical to observe who easy for the tenant and Tanay to spend hours with each other alone in their separate room and nobody questions their actions. On the other hand, Anuja has a very difficult time finding ways to talk to him, without the prying minds and questionable comments.
But when the table turned, Tanay is forced to hold his feelings for the tenant as well as his emotions to himself, while Anuja’s emotions are relatively unbridled. She suffers with depression and suicidal thoughts and her family remains supportive (comparatively) despite her rebellious actions. Yes it is a sad truth that the Indians at large are still outright homophobic (though it is mostly the elder ones), let us not even go there and the author captures the Indian mentality perfectly.
The best thing about Cobalt Blue was how the author handled the theme of homosexuality in such a matured way. Cobalt Blue is not a lot about discovering, exploring or even defending sexuality but just accepting it as is. I can’t believe this book was first published in 2006 and the author was a mere 20 year old at that time of him writing this book. I am swept away!
Things that worked for me
- All the characters and the relationships were handled matured. You can’t just paint a person in the bad light, (yes even or especially the tenant).
- Remember the last time I was let down by translation? Jerry Pinto, of Em and the Hoom fame, did a great job.
- I loved how things were left unsaid and undone. Sometimes less is enough.
- The book stayed true to the Indian culture and still if you change the city to any other developing nation the story would still work.
Things that didn’t work for me
I had a hard time thinking of something to talk about under this heading and I was at loss, which you know is rare. Anyway here it goes.
- It might feel a little, very little, slow initially but the simple and lyrical prose would get you through. Just read this!
- Once you get to the point of all or most knots unraveled the story becomes predictable and ordinary. But the simple and lyrical prose would get you through. Just read this, already.
- Sometimes, Anuja does come out as annoying, during her acting out phase, but it kinda understandable when you are ditched by someone you loved.
Sigh, I can’t think of anything else to say in the negative light.
Bottom – line
I totally loved this one and Cobalt Blue has definitely made more receptive
to translated works, especially from the Indian writers. I would recommend Cobalt Blue to anyone who loves a contemporary romance set in a family background and LGBTQA themes.
Let us chat
Have you read this book? Do you like translated works? Have they ever let you down or you one of those ever lucky people? Let us chat.