Set in Calcutta of the 1980s, Fern Road portrays with quiet sensitivity a beautiful young boy’s journey through conflict, confusion, and self-acceptance. He leads you by the hand through the streets of that great city, where the story is set and all so subtly that the events and atmosphere come alive.
Orko goes through adolescence with awful pain, some self-inflicted and some by others. It is this constant, nagging pain that lies at the centre of the story that becomes a part of the reader, but nowhere does it get heavy or leaden. The tenor of the story remains fluffy without taking on the dark undertones of suffering. Even when Orko plumbs the depths of his wretched existence, he is always on the lookout for his safety, a ray of hope that reveals a slender thread of resilience.
But Orko’s world cannot be taken at face value. Everything is certainly not what it seems. Take the old rusty car that has been willed into existence by a forgetful conjurer; or that sunny afternoon when the Titanic sinks in the waters of the Dhakuria Lake or when he swims transformed into a baby whale or with his best friend Urmi, who is his classmate and they have known each other as babies; he turns into a runaway princess or a guardian fairy. But he envies her and prays to ‘Ma Lokkhi’ to turn him into a girl, so that he, too, can wear earrings like her. Of course, his wish is not granted, and Orko grows stained with jealousy.
As a child, Orko believed that he was going to grow up to be like his mother. It is only after she disappears, he finds out, much to his amazement that he is a boy, and must grow up to become a man. That is when his father signs him up for a football camp. At this point, things spiral out of control. In the pages of his mother’s notebooks lives a little girl, with a butterfly’s gossamer wings. When Orko is on the verge of implosion, she goads him into action, with visions of a future that might be his, if only he could pull it together to claim it as his own.
In this debut novel, the author brings to the reader a tale of fortitude. You see Orko go through a very difficult time through high school. He is the odd one out in the growing years. But his struggle is what yokes you to the book, drawing you back to his Sisyphus-like struggle time and again. Fern Road does not need a reviewer’s pat on the back. It stands on its own. Its deceptive simplicity tells a tale of seriousness with gravitas without ever getting near morbidity. It’s the perfect read if you are willing to sit back and enjoy even as you are tempted to look back at your own times that have sieved by.
Book Name: Fern Road
By: Angshu Dasgupta
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Price: Rs 499