Alchemy of Desire by Tarun J Tejpal
I had picked up this book 2 years back at the annual Strand book festival, and got to read it now. Tarun Tejpal is someone I had a curiosity to read. The first sentence of the book, made me raise an eye brow and doubt what was in the offering. First 150 pages or so, I was lost and now after completing the book, I think that part of the book could have been shortened. It was repetition of unnamed protagonist’s obsession with his wife and her body, and his inability to think beyond her.But after about 200 pages the story picks up and that is when you find it difficult to keep the book down. The story travels from one plane to another, from one era to another, from one continent to another, from emotions to reality, from curiosity to mystery and finally lands up with truth. Author has divided the book in five parts: Prema or love, Karma or action, Artha or money, Kama or desire, Satya or truth. And the chapters pretty much revolve around these broader themes.
It is a story of a writer, who makes several attempts at writing a great novel, but finally lives through one and realizes that you have to live a story to be able to tell it. By some stroke of destiny, he buys a house in lower Himalayas, and the house has a mysterious history and a story that no one is willing to tell. The author gets obsessed by his desire to unearth the story so much that he looses interest in his original obsession, his wife. Finally after following the story and my joining all the facts that he collects from all possible people, he feels a sense of relief and that is when he goes back in search of his wife, content that he, at last has a story.
The story has been woven very intricately by the author, it keeps moving back and forth in time and space. The descriptions of the places, events and people are excellent. I could specifically relate to it as half the story is set in the city that I grew up in and the author describes the city from all angles, including calling it a city with no past and no visible future. He talks about the city in such a way that you can almost smell the city and feel it. He describes the emotions also with equal ease, and you can feel what the protagonist is going through. He describes his house in Himalayas, and the visuals from its various angles in such a way that you can visualize the whole valley. He describes people in such a way that you would think of someone that resembles the character.
The story touches the all aspects that touch a usual human life, childhood, politics, history, mystery, relationships, love, lust, famous and common people, chance encounters, weird people and events, cross cultures, religion, lack and abundance of money, free spirits, traditional living etc. All this is neatly woven together in a web that may entangle you. You would enjoy reading this intense and bold story, which is definitely different and original, especially if you are an intense person and like to lead an adventurous life.