Little India: Overseas Indian, NRI, Asian Indian, Indian American

Making the Moves in Manhattan

Koral Dasgupta

After writing a book on Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan and a novel based in Santiniketan, Koral Dasgupta moves her perspective westward in her third work.

Dasgupta’s latest book, a work of fiction titled Rasia: The Dance of Desire, shows the protagonist Raj Shekhar Subramanian, a Bharatnatyam dancer in Manhattan, fending off the advances of a woman interested in him for the love of his wife. Subramanian has grown up in an orphanage in Kerala, and then goes on to study at IIT Madras. He eventually leaves the mainstream path to follow his passion and become a Bharatnatyam dancer.

The story follows his life in Manhattan where he meets Vatsala Pandit, a feisty woman who starts training under him. Vatsala is just the opposite of Manasi, his wife and former student, in every respect. She is an NRI, madly in love with Shekhar. But each of her moves to get closer to Shekhar reminds him of his wife in some way or the other and he starts understanding the wife much better than he ever did.

Dasgupta, who is not a dancer and has not lived in the United States, says her choice to set the story in the United States can be attributed to an “author’s fantasy.” The Mumbai-based professor of marketing, communications and creative writing points out how she has used the rhythm of the Hudson to metaphorically explain the character of one of the protagonists.

“I can stand by the Ganges for hours and just watch boats rowing by,” she tells Little India. “Such idle hours by the river, I find very healing and rejuvenating. There is a similar calling for the Hudson river and the Brooklyn Bridge. I feel they together have a hidden story. Someday maybe I will write that too.”

For Rasia, she researched on the internet and spoke to her friends who live in the United States. She also sought help from real-life artists across disciplines to shape the characters. The greatest help came from Mumbai-based celebrity choreographer Bosco Martis, who runs dance schools at Brampton and Scarborough in Canada. “I had approached him for an interview and came back with great insights on policy issues, cultural connect and other interesting anecdotes on the pros and cons of nurturing an ambition, which can’t be geographically restricted,” recalls Dasgupta, who also started the “Tell Me Your Story” platform to host readings of short stories and poems by people.

The story in Rasia, told from the perspective of five characters, Shekhar, Manasi and Vatsala, Brian (a journalist in New York and Shekhar’s friend) and Nobarun Bhattacharya (Manasi’s father), shows the ideologies of the characters getting challenged, which helps them grow.

“My books explore the beauty of being, and so will they always do,” elaborates Dasgupa, who lives in Mumbai with her writer-political commentator husband Tuhin Sinha and son. “My works cannot ever inspire negative emotions. Its important for me to pass something pleasant to my readers.”

For Dasgupta, writing the immigrant experience was quite challenging in itself as it involved embracing unexplored horizons. “As an author, I can live many lives,” she says. “The joy of it can come to me only when I step out of my comfort zone and explore other forms of lives. I may not be an immigrant, but I managed to live the life of one through my book. Reader’s reviews tell me that I have lived that part quite well!”