Varied hues of love
Reviewed by Geetu Vaid

The Love Letter and other stories
by Buddhadeva Bose, translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha.
Rupa. Pages 214. Rs 395

The Love Letter and other storiesEach person has his own definition of love and that is the reason why it is difficult to fathom the depth of this emotion. And that perhaps is also the reason why compilations of short stories dealing with the ‘highs and lows’ of love are among the most common volumes found on any book shelf or on a reviewer’s table at any given time.

The Love Letter and Other Stories is a translation of noted Bengali writer Buddhadeva Bose’s stories and short plays by Arunava Sinha, however is in a different legue altogether. Bose, who is often referred to as the successor to Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali literature, is a master at capturing the nuances of human relationships and emotions. This collection brings together seven stories and two one-act plays with the underlying theme of love and relationship between a man and a woman.

Though love is the key ingredient in all of these stories, yet like a Michelin-star chef Bose plays with different aspects of it — presenting each time a different flavour, texture and recipe. What remains a constant, however, is the celebration of the mystery of this emotion. Steering clear of the titillation and the "basic instinct", the writer juggles the subtle, sensitive and stark portrayal of situations and characters. So one can feel an undercurrent of sarcasm in the title story, The Love Letter, wherein Birupaksha Ray, a world renowned translator and linguist, spends his entire life trying to decipher a coded letter received from an old flame. A Scent of Tulsi is about the mirage that love is. While Kamla, the wife, realises the futility of trying to bring back the past as the tides of time change patterns on the sands of emotions, her husband Mihir discovers a new side to his wife.

In And How Are You, protagonist Abanish Ghoshal is curious to know about the mysterious woman whom he sees sometimes moving in his garden, sometimes sitting in a car with a handsome pilot and in Amsterdam speaking in German at another time. The woman, always 16 in Abanish’s impressions, is more of an apparition that keeps on melding between the images of his wife and his fantasy. The reader is also left wondering whether the person he is yearning for was his wife or some old flame.

Cleverly crafted plots are gripping and the endings, though not abrupt, tickle the imagination leaving one with threads to weave conclusions that are not that obvious. The mystic illusion of love and beauty is balanced perfectly with the stark realities of life in this collection. It also defines love as a fleeting emotion that keeps everyone yearning for something that is far off there on the horizon.

The author has beautifully captured the discontent that is inherent in love as one can never get completely what one yearns for. Arunava Sinha's translation has done full justice to the honey-smooth lyricism of Bose, making the collection a pleasurable peep into the Master’s work.