Book Title: The Sacred Sorrow of Sparrows: A Collection of Lives
Author: Siddharth Dasgupta
Publication: Niyogi Books : 2017
Pages 253 Rs.395
Thomas Hardy in Tess called it the “soft torments, the bitter sweets, the pleasing pains, and the agreeable distresses”, and went on to spin a tale “of anxieties, disappointments, shocks, catastrophes, and passing strange destinies”. Siddharth Dasgupta sets the tone to his melancholic volume in his “Dedication”: “For the desires that consume, the addictions that free, and the sorrows that heal”. The Prelude then extends the sadness, asserting with glistening eyes that the stories are not intended to be sad, but that the sadness lingers … as the unassuming occurrence of lives is played out to their own silent music. This theme rises to a magnificent crescendo when Siddharth moves into his eighth narrative (out of a total ten) In Symphonies We Flow. There the Bosphorus flows while the populace of the entire city is united, quoting Orhan Pamuk, in an inexplicable sorrow, nourished by the embers of a fallen empire; the narrator merges his own dark moods with that of the city and … is at peace. In the Prelude, Siddharth also speaks of humans as they flutter riotously across the canvas of their horizons like tiny sparrows that “cower, crippled with the fear of things not known, and soar, freed from previously existing yokes; and endure their destinies and their desires directed by hope.” And yes, the stories were not intended to be sad.
Take the first one: The Baker from Kabul. After migrating to Dubai the baker has a son living in Canada and a daughter in Germany – an empty-nester if ever there was one. The end makes the nest so much drearier – if that was possible. Carrying that metaphor further the author tells of the birds that the baker feeds every day, waiting for him at the end until they cannot. Then we have Gulmohar Drive with the smell of the earth after the first rains and the mists that relate to the soul, almost abrasively. There’s Shenaz and Askhay in a brutally broken love affair and then ten years into healing she finds Shaunak, poet and budding actor, who can understand her silences … She also meets up with her old friend Susan who tells her, “You’ve never really left, either physically or emotionally” … just like the gulmohars leaving behind a fragrant trail of essence that never really leaves.
Reversal and Its Residues is a Mumbai-based story of an affair with a Spanish girl oddly called Savannah, while popular songs keep playing in the background – until the ugliness of jealousy and possessiveness creeps in… and everyone gets along like a house on fire. At the end of which there is neither house nor fire. Only memories …
Once upon a Mystic Sky speaks of love held on to for almost two decades, rekindled in all its ferocious gentleness, while The Thousandth Bridge, is played out in Isfahan (a town in Iran) soon after the drought at the turn of the century. The central character sketches bridges that stand in their own beauty; bridges that have no purpose now that the water beneath has dried up. Her own life is like the beautiful Allahverdi Khan Bridge with its thirty-three arches or the dry river bed …? Another notable story is One Deep Sleep about insomniacs in Tokyo and the mysterious ways in which they find solace, and sleep. Kleptosufi, the last of the collection is based in Bsharri (situated in the Kadisha Valley, northern Lebanon), lingers on a touch of love.
The Train Rolled Through the Night and Dawn’s Fatal Betrayal are not quite in character. The former is about a boy who witnesses a stranger’s suicide or murder on the railway line in Wellington (in The Nilgiris) only to find some two decades later that it wasn’t at all a stranger; the latter is a rather tasteless, disappointing narrative of a death in a family.
Overall, there is an attractive lyrical feel in these stories, a poetic lilt that serves to underline the gloom, filled with a delicate symbolism – even when he describes the lanes and gullies of the locales of his stories (one marvel, though, at the minute details). Where love prevails through various circumstances, where beauty and mystery leap at you even from something as ordinary as visiting cards. But there is something to be said about melancholy. While Shelley sang to the Skylark of songs that tell of saddest thought, there is perhaps a surfeit of that sweetness that jars. As Siddharth remarks about the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans that live with the simplicity of small gracious cups, this pleasurable gloom can be taken only in small measures. Too much of it would call for psychiatric help.