‘I like a bit of dust,’ he replied, regretting that he had spoken so harshly to her, when she meant so well. But taking the frame from her hands, he saw that she has simply rubbed the dust into the corners; the effect was to him somehow obscene. And in that moment, he realized that he would rather that his whole life were left exactly as it was in that moment of terrible beauty when he realized that he loved her as he would never love any other woman, his brother’s wife, Reba. For since then, he had taken comfort in any form of desuetude: the heavy breath of old unpolished teak, the freckled edges of the old mirrors, the lime-choked cisterns, and the chipped ceramic. Decay had become nectar to Debendranath Roy on the day that he discovered that he loved his brother’s wife.
Once a mouse running over her bare feet had caused her to shudder so violently that Debendranath Roy had been crushed by the lushness of her displeasure.
The hot August nights stamped through her like herds of panting buffalo, and she woke feeling more drained and tired than when she had come to bed, dreading the rest of the day.
—Sunetra Gupta, A Sin of Color, Chapters One and Two
The story can’t help but emerge as if from a thicket, dappled with all kinds of turns of phrase, like the ones above. A Sin of Color is one of the more absurd books I’ve read lately but its absurdity, rather, the absurdity of the events which take place, is seen and raised by the vivid quality of its language and the light-filled way that the author approaches her characters. Have you ever wondered what happened to all those colorful characters who used to inhabit great literature of the past, like Bleak House and Tristram Shandy? Sunetra Gupta has found a couple and set them loose in this book.
What would you do if your uncle returned to the family manse after you had spent 20 years believing that he had drowned himself? The book I read before this one, Hari Kunzru’s Transmission, was also about failure, but many types of failure: systems failure, personal failure, failure to connect. A Sin of Color is about a kind of personal failure, as incarnated in the uncle, Debendranath Roy.
It’s Debendranath Roy’s unrequited love affair with his sister-in-law (see second quote, above) that makes sense of the whole situation. As illustrated in the first quote, it’s the kind of love whose existence makes everything else nonexistent, like an overly fatty candle throwing off sparks in a very dark room.