Tale of magical realism, dark but uplifting too (Book Review)


Book: “The Lost Fragrance”; Author: Amit Dasgupta; Published by: Wisdom Tree; Price: Rs.195.

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An enchanting fairy tale for children or a fable for all in these contemporary times of strife and stress? With balloons that speak, crows that hold out life lessons, a serpent that symbolises evil and peopled with characters like Old and Lost, diplomat Amit Dasgupta’s book is something of both.

The magical realism of “The Lost Fragrance” recalls the stories of Narnia and Harry Potter. At the centre of the tale is the geography teacher in a village school whose quiet life changes when a flute player visits him in a dream and the Little Girl, grieving for her dead parents, who must travel to the lost and faraway Land of the Blue Jasmine.

It is a tale of adventure and excitement, of the inevitability of death and familial conflicts, of coming to terms with tragic realities and retribution but also of heartwarming portrayals of innocence and good. The world of good and evil comes to graphic life, almost in a tactile sense – with smell, feel and colour.

This is a very visual book. And Dasgupta’s descriptions are vivid. “He had an odd face that was round like a poached egg, with an enormous moustache that would have hung down to his knees if he had not carefully wound it round his neck like a muffler,” is how the “worried looking apparition” is introduced.

Like all fairy tales, this one too has dark edges. The stench of evil lingers as does the fragrance of the jasmines. And then there’s the happy ending of course.

Dasgupta says in his afterword that the idea for the book formed in his mind soon after his father’s death in 1993. “It was a difficult and lonely period,” he says. But then life has to move on. And “The Lost Fragrance” was born as he began relating a story of fantasy and adventure to his then five-year-old daughter at night.

“The characters needed to be anybody and everybody, especially because death touches us all,” says the author. But life must go on. As it must for the Little Girl. As the book ends, she inhales the “heady scent of blue jasmines”, looks up to the sky with stars glittering like countless diamonds and two stars that remain steadfast.

“They must be your parents,” the wise Crow says. “…You came to hold on to them and you learnt to let them go.”

The valuable life lesson that all must eventually learn and imbibe.