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Open Couplets by Torsa Ghosal is novel revolving around the life of Ira
Chatterjee, who goes on quests to find two missing people whose absence no one else seem to be aware of – or even care about.

Ghosal’s novel gracefully shifts between the settings of Kolkata and America as the gripping narratives shift between the two quests. The complex plot laid out with lyrical writing makes it impossible for the readers to not lose themselves within the pages. From cross-dressing poets to gay social activists, the book is filled with characters that challenge and broaden the idea of gender expression of South Asian communities.

Wet clay weighs the damp air down, competing with the hard sun’s sultriness. Earlier, a crow collapsed on the balcony. A coterie of mourners in black took charge of the morning’s sound-scape. It is nobody’s business to interrupt their incessant cawing. If you do not like the sound, you can always shut your wooden doors and hope for the best. That’s what she did. Now the crow and its companions have disappeared.How far can they go? They must be in the thickets, here, out of sight.

As usual, the balcony rattles just a little with the dawdling freight wagons. Behind that passing train, the daily bather stake another dip in the Hooghly. Quick fingers of a fettler scrape the glaze off the arms of a Kartik idol. A neatly pleated gold-embroidered blue dhoti flutters impatiently next to the naked, half-painted model. Nowadays Kartik, the pretty god,commands attention only after the larger orders for Kali and Jagadhatri pujas are complete. She was in Ma’s womb when a Kartik idol entered their house for the last time. It is notas if her parents did not want a daughter—they only wanted to honour the family tradition of asking Kartik to bless the pregnant mother with a son. Somewhere, bamboo sticks shake when wire corsets are tightened. What idol are they binding the straw for at this time of the year?—after Kartik,the next one, as far as she can tell, will be Saraswati. But that is months away.

Coat the rohu fish with batter. The pink and silver stomach of the fish shines against the blackened brass bowl. The eyes of the rohu taught her what it is to feel pity. Lingering traces of turmeric and the scent of onion-garlic paste emanate from her fingers and yet another drop of oil darkens the green paint of the kitchen wall. Knead the dough, like it is soft clay freshly scooped from the muddy Hooghly. Will it rain this sweltering morning? The rohu is taking on a caramel shade.Let it simmer in the mustard oil.

She leans over the balcony. The alley downstairs is emptier than it has been in the past few months. Durga, Kali, and their entourage have returned to Hooghly as clay and have been subsequently fished out of water as straw and bamboo skeletons. Her craned neck hurts. Collecting the end of her yellow cotton saree, she turns to go inside. A pair of eyes looking up her left shoulder startles her. 

In these lanes there is no respite from eyes. No matter what time it is and who you are. This time, though, it is only the pair of Dakini-Yogini models which did not sell during the Kali Puja season. Removed from Baba’s workshop for the lack of space, the pair guards the porch downstairs. Toward the wee hours of the morning on the day of Kali Puja, Baba was ready to sell those off at practically no cost. Of course, Dakini-Yogini should not even be compared to the star gods like Durga,Kali, Shiva, or even Dhere Gopal. Even the idols with a more humble following, like Manasa, are way above the league of these ugly blue and green ghosts that accompany Kali to the pandals; their chief responsibility is to evoke the morbidity of cemeteries. The seasonal function requires an annual, limited supply. By the time Baba realised that his workshop had more pairs of Dakini-Yoginis than he could sell, it was too late. No pandals wanted these even as gifts. Too many Dakini-Yoginis would disturb the fine balance between cultivated morbidity and routine ridiculousness. The best these models can do now is to hold up until the next season. 

Also read: Begum Rokeya: The Writer Who Introduced Us To Feminist Sci-Fi | #IndianWomenInHistory


Excerpted with permission from Open Couplets By Torsa Ghosal, Yoda Press. You can buy this book at 20% off at the FII-Yoda Press Winter Book Sale on 21st and 22nd December 2018 in New Delhi. For more details, check out the sale page.

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