I came across a book recently that I would not have picked up myself. Rasia: The Dance of Desire by Koral Dasgupta is a novel that seemingly depicts a love triangle between a man and two women. It may sound like a book on fidelity but there is more to it than meets the eye.
Set within the backdrop of Bharatanatyam, Rasia: The Dance of Desire is about a man whose ambitions overrule his life and all relationships. Raj Shekhar Subramanian is ruthless and calculating. Nothing is to come between him and success in his chosen field. He isn’t a bad person who uses people. This just means that everything Shekhar does is about Bharatanatyam, his dance academy, and ultimately his goals.
He has a wife whom he loves, but the author makes it very clear from the onset that Shekhar married Manasi only for her dancing abilities. He is quoted saying that: “She was first my student, then a partner in my vision, a pleasant habit soon after; a lover only lately.”
A little background on Manasi: she is the daughter of a well-respected Pandit. Shekhar saw her perform the danuchi dance of Durga Pooja and knew that she was the woman he wanted to marry.
So now that we know where the second player of the game stands, let’s introduce the third: Vatsala Pandit. A trained ballet dancer, this girl is obsessed with Shekhar. So much so that she moves mountains just to have him perform and ultimately open a dance studio in New York.
If you want my honest opinion, I enjoyed reading the Rasia: The Dance of Desire. The first quarter of the novel was interesting, albeit slightly confusing, as there are two more characters who help tell the story: Brian Herrett, a journalist keen on becoming Shekhar’s biographer, and ‘The Voice’ aka Manasi’s deceased father who Shekhar occasionally talks to in his quiet moments. But once you get the hang of the ever-changing narrator and the occasional jumping of timelines, it becomes a fun read as you begin sketching the character in your head.
The next portion of the book, I must admit, was a bit of a struggle to get through. This is mostly because of Manasi and her never ending train of thought. That and the work she had undertaken. What I do admire about this part is how the author managed to weave the intricacies of Indian Mythology and Bharatanatyam with the lives of our protagonists. While I am interested in Indian Mythology, I am not an enthusiast. But you don’t need to be a fan to appreciate the wisdom and strength the literature foretells. This part also helps us get to know more about our players, especially the dark sides of their personalities.
The book gains momentum as we get to spend more time with Vatsala Pandit. She is a breath of fresh air after coming to terms with Manasi’s submissiveness and Shekhar’s inability to loosen the reigns.
Vatsala Pandit is obsessive, dedicated and hard working. She gets what she wants, and she wants Raj Shekhar Subramanian. Vatsala knows he is married but she is determined to break down his walls and become his dance partner. She wants to not share just share his life but also become indispensable in fulfilling his dreams.
This book is less about a love triangle and more about finding one’s true self. All three protagonists encounter realizations of their own incapability, shortcomings and ultimately, their strengths.
The most interesting character development in the story is that of Manasi’s. We begin by being introduced to a woman who seems to be a complete push over. Her entire existence is devoted to Shekhar with no wants or ambitions of her own. In other words, a complete door mat – for lack of better word. It is only when you progress through the story line that you start to gain respect for Manasi and come to know the real strength of her character. She knows what Vatsala is up to and she is not one to back down from a fight. But, at the same time, she would willingly concede than tarnish her dignity.
But finally, what impressed me most about this book was different layers of each protagonist. Author Koral Dasgupta has done a brilliant job of stripping the characters until we (and they themselves) come face to face with their true selves. Linked with her superb knowledge of Indian Mythology, comes out a great piece of work. The book can be interpreted from various point of views. Which, I believe, portrays the true skill of the writer.
A book has two bare bone functions; to educate or to entertain. A great book does booth. In my meagre opinion, Rasia: The Dance of Desire does both.