I finished reading Saikat Majumdar's 'The Firebird' last night. There are books you finish in one go, and then there are stories you wish did not end. You are in no rush to reach the destination, as you have fallen in love with the journey. This story is like that chocolate bar in your refrigerator, which an uncle coming home for the holidays from abroad, gifted you in your childhood. You would take bite-sized chunks every day, wrap the rest of it carefully, and keep it back inside the refrigerator, your heart content with the assurance that, there was more to savour tomorrow.
This book plucked me off my everyday routine – familiar and often mundane – and took me on a journey to a world that lives now only in my moist memories. To lanes and bylanes of a Kolkata that I knew like the back of my hand, and my footprints on them have now been swept away by winds of change. To houses abuzz with warm voices, many of which have been silenced by time. To headlines in yellowed pages of newspapers breaking news that have now become chapters in history books. To old playhouses and movie halls, to walls on which the sickle-hammer-star battled with the palm, to lilting melodies on the radio, to meandering lanes which the dada-s of the para ruled over, to innocence ruefully lost.
What makes the reading more personal is the fact that, Saikat delicately adds smell, taste and texture to moments, to situations and to emotions, which make them leap straight out of the pages and suddenly, they are your own memories, your own feelings and experiences, and this is your story. It is you who feels guilty and scared over Ori's little lies, it is you who is shocked by the antics of the two beggar girls, it is your heart that skips a beat or two at Ahin's maniacal desire to bring his written words to life, it is you who has a sad foreboding when Shruti leaves Ori's Dhakuria house to meet his mother at the Pantheon later that night, it is you who cries with Ori in the empty classroom seeking comfort in the motherly hug of his teacher, and it is you who is shattered by the tragic and ironic denouement of the story.
As I went to bed last night after finishing the book and putting the beautifully designed jacket back on it, the images haunted me, robbing hours off my quota of sleep, and a book hasn’t done that to me in a while. Saikat, thanks for giving me back a slice of my childhood through your story. This, for me, is a masterpiece. I cannot now wait to dig into your other literary savouries.