Most often the simplest of dishes give out the best of flavors. Chef Vikas Khanna’s first fiction is sort of similar to this. The Last Colour, published by Bloomsbury, may well be a simple tale, of a relationship between a young tight rope walker and a middle aged widow. Yet the book brings out in abundance emotions- the longing of the heart and the impact of social bias.
Vikas Khanna is the man who adorns several caps-a celebrity chef, judge at Master Chef India, and author to several best-selling food related books. It thus did pique my interest and “The Last Colour” found its way into my hands.
Varanasi- The story within it
What is the significance, after all, of a life struggling to be born in a city where people come to die?
Based in Varanasi, the book traces the lives of Choti and Noor. Where Choti is the young and sassy tight rope walker, living life on the streets, Noor is the old widow who lives life sans any colour in an ashram. Abstinence is the way of life for Noor. As Vikas puts it:
Their lives lived in perpetual mourning, not even a spot of colour allowed on their person.
A chanced encounter with the exuberant Choti and a beautiful relationship begins to take shape between them. Amidst the smoke rising from the pyres at Manikarnika Ghats, the bond fills their life with simple joys. Choti tries to paint Noor’s life with colours, promising her that their next Holi would be together. Noor inturn fills Choti’s eyes with dreams to soar. At a time when things just seemed to be going on at their own pace, Choti witnesses the murder of her friend Anarkali. Life turns topsy-turvy all of a sudden. Shielding the little girl in every way, breaking barriers, Noor decides to protect her with all her might. What ensues is a heart wrenching struggle- of social taboos, prejudices and class.
Amidst the different shades of Varanasi Vikas presents a multi-layer story woven in a simple fashion, including into the folds as many little messages as possible. The story works on the broad framework of the Supreme Court order of non-discrimination against transgender and widows in Indian society.
The strength lies in the prose
Yes, indeed the way the words flowed, took the story with it. Like the flow of the Ganges slow yet steady, the characters unveiled themselves. I loved the element of rawness in each one of the characters, and the realistic description of what Varanasi is.
The evening Aarthi in his words…
“Its ringed formations and offerings and blessings of reverent fire, flickering lamps, candlelight, flame and song, would create a starry-eyed parade of ritual worship, individual and collective, that would send floating and lifting the soft glow of diya candles great and small throughout the ghats and all the way to Ganga’s edge.”
… Or the paradox of life and death on Manikarnika Ghat where the deceased lie waiting for their final journey.
“The god-orphans had themselves stitched the vibrant clothes they wore to match their masks, from the fabric that the relatives of the deceased had pinned and knotted or wrapped their loved ones in for their final journey to Manikarnika Ghat.”
It made me picture it all!
The Last Colour isn’t your usual fiction, it’s an experience
Don’t expect twists and turns in the plot. It flows at its own pace, tad slow. Read it slowly to devour it. It’s a book that speaks volumes about the country we are, the people within and the society we are part of.
The Last Colour has been adapted into a motion picture and was unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival recently.
The book is available on Amazon in hardbound format.
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