Koral Dasgupta is a versatile writer. A self-confessed Shah Rukh Khan fanatic, her first book, Power of a Common Man analysed King Khan’s brand personality. Then it was her turn to explore the world of music and art at Shantiniketan through the fictional Fall Winter Collections while Rasia: The Dance of Desire was a look into the dynamics of the man-woman relationship. Koral is now out with another book and this one is bound to resonate with anyone who has spent their holidays with their extended families, much before gadgets and television controlled them. Summer Holidays is all about family, conflicts, varied personalities, emotions, the big city-small city divide and inter-personal relationships but told through humour and in a light vein. In a chat, Koral reveals why it was fascinating to delve into the world of cousins, uncles, aunts, chatty women and complex characters struggling to break out of their personal shell…
What inspired Summer Holidays?
A lot of things actually. Primarily, it brings a perspective to the small town-big city difference. People in small town hold a lot of notions against life or people in big cities and vice versa, some of which might be true. But both have their own strong values. Every time those have been brought together and collaborated, something good has come out of it. Summer Holidays is a story of that 'good'. It covers life in Shimla, Bangalore and Mumbai - each city adding its own hue. The presentation is comic as comedy comes naturally to me and I feel we are forgetting how to laugh or go with the spirit of a joke.
Family conflicts and dramas have been explored in many books before. What makes Summer Holidays different?
Summer Holidays is definitely not a Sooraj Barjatia set-up. It is the opposite, rather. Every person is suffering their own cocoon because either their character is such or they don't know how to undo the damage they have brought upon by sheer foolishness. It is the story of breaking out from that little self-centred, personal shell. I feel today we all need to force ourselves and break those invisible walls we have created around ourselves. While celebrating 'strong' men and women, we have developed this innate need to become super-powers that stop us from being fearless and honest about our weaknesses. Summer Holidays explores small families in nuclear set-ups grappling with their own issues when help is just a hand away.
Why is it called a 'fairty tale for adults'?
Fairy tales traditionally had beautiful characters suffering because of adverse circumstances, proceeding towards a happy ending, with lots of magic thrown in between. The elements in such stories service children. Now pick the same definition and try to place it in an adult consumption zone. Characters flawed in their own ways, but nice with beautiful hearts that mean well. Adverse circumstances aren't created by monsters from another world but by the characters themselves because of their ego. The mind-blocks are the mountain of hurdles that the prince and princess must cross. Real life has lots of magic - they manifest through the people we meet, the difference they make, certain moments that inspire us, little things that bring a smile, and more. And then, each big or small issue resolved is a happy ending. That's Summer Holidays.
Were the characters inspired by someone you know?
The characters are inspired by different kinds of people we see around us. Everyone will read and relate to one Rishi or Mira or Viyaan or Shabnam or the parents, as someone who features in their life. Only Shiraz is larger than life. However, Mira's character was important for me. People appreciate strong women who can break boundaries and achieve the impossible. But if a woman is simple, shy and doesn’t exactly relate to the complicated politics of personal and professional life, does that make her weak? Or her emotional power counts? What if her innocence can break such barriers that so- called smart people chose to steer away from? Summer Holidays is a comedy transcending familial relationships, where a charming boy stands by his demure cousin to bring her out of the introvert and help her gain control of her life. However, this is also the story of two women – one confused and the other feisty – trying to negotiate their own terms with the circumstances that life put them into.The urban chaos is ever inviting with its inherent bling. Here is money and growth, here lies prosperity. But in the heart of hearts, everyone feels the call of a homecoming. The call of the grassroots. The simple girl and a feisty woman are also metaphoric towards the rural-urban divide – have we unleashed enough, the power of our origins?
From a book on a Bollywood icon to a tome on music to now a drama... what inspires you as a writer?
I was born with a story button, I think. Switch it on and you have something pouring. I have a desperate eye for unnoticed things happening around. I interpret and use them in my stories. I am an extremely restless and impatient person myself, trying to experience as many lives as I can in one birth. Goes without saying that I would hate to be categorized by a genre.
Do you think family conflicts are more difficult to resolve than others?
The most complicated relationship of our life is the one we have with ourselves. We are usually happy, sad, grumpy, angry because of our response to circumstances or our inability to provide an apt one. Others are only provoking influences. Family is the closest unit that comes after we have dealt with ourselves. We take things far more personally when it comes to the family than otherwise. Such conflicts hence are far more impactful and mending a crack takes a lifetime.
What memories do summer holidays hold for you?
Terribly hot summers. We stayed in the top floor of a flat in north Kolkata. During summer holidays when there was no way I could sneak out in the sun, I shut the windows and hang wet towels on the curtains to create a manual cooler. And then slept off till evening when the breeze would get cooler for us to run up to the terrace and play. Our house had a huge Krishnachura on one side and a neem on the other. Touching the flowers/fruits from the balcony or terrace was another dangerous game we indulged in. At times I was packed off to my maternal uncle's house where I and my cousins had a lot of secret tasks to explore - from mangoes to grandfather's old diaries. Otherwise, I read books from my mother's vast collection. I think I read Maxim Gorky much before I should have read it.
Finally, is the book available outside India or can it be ordered online?
Very much. The book is available outside India and can be ordered online.