This is a review of the book Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar. Honestly, I chose to read it because it’s been translated from Marathi by Jerry Pinto. I loved his book Em and the Big Hoom. I knew nothing more about the book or the author and I like it that way. It helps me to keep an open mind while reviewing the book.
I’m swept away by this book after having read it over the course of a long day at court. It’s layered and well-written and transcends all genre. The fact that the author of this marvellous piece was 20 when he started the book and 22 when he finished it, makes me want to stand up on a chair and applaud and simultaneously to weep with jealousy.
Simply put, it’s the story of a brother and sister in love with the same man. The book is divided into two parts, each written in first person by one of the siblings. It’s a love story, yes, a love triangle if you will; but mostly it’s a portrait. It’s a portrait of lower middle class life in Maharashtra, it’s a portrait of a generation clever enough to rubbish antiquated tradition but not strong enough to break away from regressive familial bonds. It’s a portrait about how mundane love can be, and yet so overwhelming, how it can make one forget the world around us. It’s a portrait of a society where mosr types of romantic love are forced to stay hidden, of a society where homogeneity and acceptance are the biggest aspirations.
It’s a small book, which only brushes the surface of each of the above aspects, but it’s nuanced enough that it does not remain a photograph. The work that was put into the resulting simplicity is apparent.
I love both the main characters, Tanay and Anuja. However, the seem to be caricatures or uni-dimensional stereotypes, rather than fleshed out persons.
I liked that Tanay’s part was in the form of a letter addressed to the man he loves, who remains unnamed. I like the digressions and the non-linear style of narration, and the way he circles back to thoughrs after having fleshed them out with background. I loved that Anuja kept a journal. She says that life felt like a hairball and keeping a journal helped to smooth things out. I completely agree. As everyone knows,
I quite enjoyed the fact that she’s so clueless about her brother’s feelings for her own lover because it serves to demonstrate the invisibility of minority sexualities. It’s simply inconceivable, even to the most loving and well-meaning people.
I felt that every line in this book was loaded with purpose and meaning. For instance, Tanay observed his parents’ relationship and craved a permanent relationship to “grow into” while Anuja only wondered why her mother does nothing for herself and has no space of her own.
On Goodreads, I read that the author felt that Anuja and Tanay are just masculine and feminine sides of the same person and not two separate persons at all. That confused me because I didn’t get that feeling at all, even though my reading was coloured by that quote that I read. I kept looking for signs of that being the case, and I just didn’t find any. All I saw are two siblings who were close and compatible to each other, and “different” in a family that greatly valued homogeneity. One sibling recovered and started to go down the path of redemption while the other seemed to get lost in an ocean of sorrow.
More than anything else, I saw this book as a portrait of a certain type of life in a certain type of family. I also felt that the purpose of the third sibling, Aseem, the golden boy, is introduced only to juxtapose the reception of a conforming child with two other children who could not and would not conform to the values of the Joshi family.
I want to end this review with my favourite quote from the book, from Anuja’s journal:
Our house was big enough for middle-class dreams, but not for privacy.
Has anyone read this book? What did you think of it? Do you agree with my take on it? Do you agree with the author? Do you think this is a “gay novel”? Let me know in the comments?