#BookReview: Elixir By Sinjini Sengupta

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I had heard of Elixir long before it took the shape of a book. At that time I was attending a writing workshop where our mentor spoke about the film which was to be aired in the club of their apartment complex. Though I didn’t have a chance to watch the movie, since then, I’d been intrigued by it. So, when the film had been translated into the form written words, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the novel. We usually hear of novels being converted to films but Elixir’s case was the opposite. It was a short story that got made into a short film (thereby winning several international awards) and then it got further expanded into the form of a novel.

The moment I set my eyes on the book, the cover itself lured me further in. There’s a picture of a glass tumbler in a black and white background, with a reflection of dream catchers making patterns on the glass’s shadow. ‘What a beautifully original and intriguing cover!’ I thought. And then I turned opened the book to delve into its world. The story starts off on a state of fusion between dreams and reality and it continues that way throughout.

Elixir is a woman’s journey between reality and dreams. Manisha is a successful professional married to a high flying entrepreneur. Seen from the outside, Manisha seem to have it all. But then deep down, why does she feel a tug for something unknown? What is it that is missing and where can Manisha find fulfilment?

The author’s language flows in a poetic rhythm leaving the reader in a state of dreamlike trance. Sinjini’s writing reminded me of the works one of my favourite authors, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Just like Divakaruni, Sinjini has this beautiful ability to juxtapose the coarse mundane with a feathery dreamlike texture. Through her use of metaphors and vivid imagery, Sinjini creates a world that seem to be throbbing with life right before the reader’s eyes.

Consider this:

‘Amidst fairytales and mythologies, amidst the dance of shadow and shadows on the lonely roof. Reindeers and greyhounds in black finger-shadows, by the wall. Whizzes of mosquitoes, a lone spiral in smokes is their sole rescue. Amma would tell her stories by the shadows of the dark, rainy evenings…’

Or this,

‘It is evening now, and the sunlight is creating a strange orange filter on everything it lays its drowsy eyes upon. The iron benches look like gold. Old people, their hair in silver and grey, taking rounds with their walking sticks in hand, laughing and taking turns to talk…’

The concept of the story is fresh and original, something that simply left me in awe. Through its narrative, Elixir might be talking to so many forlorn women out there. Women who on the surface seem to have it all, while deep down they are painfully trudging along, carrying a huge cross of loneliness on their backs. How barren life is without the magic potion of real companionship or love?

Along with this, Elixir also stirs conversation around the subject of mental health, a topic that is still sadly dealt with callousness in this country. Even to this day, issues like depression or melancholy are not taken seriously and I thank the author for talking about this issue with so much of sensitivity and authenticity in this book. I sincerely wish more books and movies dealing with such topics come to the forefront thereby leading to some important conversations regarding India’s hesitance to accept mental health as a valid parameter for a person’s well being.

However, there are certain aspects of the book that, according to me, had scopes for improvement. While the language was poetic and richly vivid, sometimes the descriptions seemed to be halting the smooth flow of the narrative.

The day to day journey of an unhappy woman was brought about with clarity but then the description of every tiny detail from her her day in the office, to the roads she takes, to her taking a bath, did weigh on the mind after a while. I’d really have loved to see the narrative pick up pace towards the middle of the book.
Personally, I felt that had the book been 50 to 75 pages shorter, it might have made for a tighter and more gripping narrative. Though I understand that the repetitions might have been intentional in order to establish how Manisha’s mind is slowly slipping away from the outwardly world into another dimension, however, that fact seemed to have been established more than adequately and after a point it felt repetitive.

Also, in this context, I felt the character of Amit, the husband seemed quite one dimensional. Even in the most detestable of humans, there generally exists some redeeming qualities, some vulnerabilities that make them human. I’m definitely not suggesting that all men must be understanding or loving partners, but to show someone consistently indifferent to the point of being cruel to their spouse and yet unwilling to lose their grip on the said spouse seemed a bit implausible.

However, all in all, Elixir is an important read dealing with extremely important themes in today’s context such as marital discords and mental health. The writer treats these themes with utmost sensitivity. The cherry on the cake is the author’s poetic prose which paints pictures and creates vivid worlds transitioning smoothly between reality and dreams. Elixir deals with a woman’s vulnerabilities and travels further into the deepest crevices of her mind, the emotions felt by the protagonist at times spoke personally to me in the most intimate way. Somewhere, I could understand her pain and wanted to help her out. This I think is the biggest success of the book, the creation of a character that women can either identify with or will want to reach out to. The raw emotions and vulnerabilities of the protagonist pulsates through the book thus making it a sad yet important read.

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