Express News Service
Kintsugi is a collection of six short stories, all the characters linked to each other, some tenuously, some strongly. We meet Haruko, a jewellery apprentice of Japanese-Korean extraction in a jeweller’s lane in Jaipur, after which we go over to Tokyo, then Kyoto, to meet Meena, Yuri and Hajime.
Then we return to that old Jaipur street to learn what happened to Haruko’s mentor, the kundansaaz’s daughter Leela, who Haruko had tutored in lapidary work for a brief spell; we also meet Haruko’s friend for a short but intense while, Dr Prakash, again, and then we head to an island in Borneo, finally winding up in Singapore to catch up with Haruko and her current companion, Hajime.
The stories exist in a quiet zone, there is a beautiful economy of words at work here, yet we are drawn into the lives of these six people almost immediately. These are men and women with secret and not-so-secret desires who yearn to break free of their more prosaic than tormenting shackles, who are ready to take all the risks such actions inevitably hold. Some of them, though, want to play it straight, to settle rather than risk their lives and reputations, want the comfort of steady routine in their lives.
And so we root for those who would break free, like Leela and Meena, even as we understand those who would carry on in their set grooves, like Prakash. And while we definitely bridle at the rampant patriarchy seen at the gaddis (workshops) in the Jaipur segments of the book, it’s not as if we don’t understand where those characters are coming from.
We are given capsule lessons in the art of making kundan, meena and thewa jewellery, and the author’s attention to detail is charming. We are given glimpses of how complex life can be, both at home and away from home. And we are shown again and again, just how the human heart and its longings remain the same from person to person.
These six people are not very much out of the ordinary, yet the way the story’s spotlight settles on them for the duration of telling their tale, has us transfixed, entering fully into their lives, needing to know it all ends well for them. There is more unsaid than said, and this reader for one, gives the author profound thanks for that. And just like the art of kintsugi, the Japanese technique of repairing broken pottery using powdered gold, these six characters too, pretty much find grace in the aftermath of heartbreak, and are ready to pick up the pieces and move on into a luminous dawn.
In a lovely act of subtlety, the title is never explained, except for a passing reference, and yet it doesn’t take us long to realise the characters are all damaged, all in need of kintsugi. Some are given the benediction of that exquisite repair, some are not, but all survive to face another day. I have no hesitation in saying that this is easily one of the best books I have read in 2020 and that is straight-up praise, given that the pandemic has not put any kind of crimp on some really good books being written or read, in this, the Time of the Virus.