Not all vessels are meant to hold water, some are for allowing water to seep away. Haruko trailed a finger over the photograph, “Broken things are precious too.”
What is Kintsugi?
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold and rightly the name was chosen for this book which talks about the lives of broken souls and their mending ways.
Just like the cracked bowl the characters in the book never return to their old selves completely, but they own their brokenness to move forward healing “in their capacity”. Anukrti Upadyay, who made a stunning debut in English last year with the twin novellas Daura and Bhaunri, through her lucid writing, etches out a few stories of heartbreak, with a poignancy that the ripples of their breakages resonate within the reader.
Kintsugi proceeds in such a way that each of the characters comes to the spotlight in their story but at the same time remains an important, presence in the other stories. I absolutely loved the way the book transported me to the places and moods through which the characters travelled.
Haruko is a foreign student of Korean-Japanese origin who comes to Jaipur to learn the art of Indian jewellery making from the Sunars in Johari Bazaar.
“Sunar’s do not teach jewellery making to their women. It is surprising that they agreed to teach you …perhaps because you are a foreigner,” she is told when she visits the first place.
Then there is Leela, a headstrong girl who belongs to the community of Sunars who is deprived of the right to take up her father’s gaddi in spite of being talented, just because she is a girl. Her story speaks about the struggle for her rights against deep-rooted patriarchy.
We meet Prakash in Jaipur, an orthopaedic surgeon who is stuck in his past and falters at mending himself. The friendship between the naïve Yuri, the rebellious Meera, and Hajime, brings alive the complexities as well as the fragility of human relations.
In one of the most striking stories, Kintsugi talks about Borneo, the turtle island in the Sulu sea, a place where turtles travel from all over the world to lay eggs. The allegories about the turtle and other inhabitants of the island were beautiful and thought-provoking.
Upadhyay has weaved the stories of the people beautifully and the loss and longing that come with love.
But Upadhyay builds a world with intricate details; from food flavours to hospitality customs, and most prominently, the craft of jewellery making. So we read about engraving, enamelling its type, the customs of jewellery making and more, which truly makes the story jump out of the pages.
There are several one-liners to take home, which immediately grow on the reader.
“We have these blind spots, all of us sometimes we run across one and forget everything for a while”.
Kintsugi shifts from India to Japan and back, but is written in a leisurely way and allows the reader to settle and enjoy both worlds.
The women of Kintsugi are strong, with a sense of conviction, and distinct personalities. Each has its own way of moving on and adapting. There is a melancholy in their stories which one can relate to, a freedom in their actions we aspire to, and a revival which is comforting.
Kintsugi speaks to many of our social realities; patriarchy, homophobia, loneliness and the struggle for acceptance. Without being overpowering, these topics are dealt with in a hard-hitting way.
The only thing I wished for was a little more clarity of the true feelings of the characters at the end. If you like closed endings, this book is not for you; much like life, the stories end at a point of indecision, and the readers are left to choose the afterlife of these stories.