Have you ever lost a dear one after pouring your heart out? Have you ever promised never to fall in love with someone, while never stopping to love them? Have you ever lived a life of lies, constantly lying to yourself about letting go, while always chasing what is not yours? If yes, this book may be for you.

Bhalo Na Basar Galpo is a short novel by author Sudipto Pal. Published at the start of 2021 by Sristisukh Prokashon, Kolkata, it revolves around the emotional journey of a young artist, Mallar, and his older friend Srijan. The book is divided into a few sections, and each section adds a new layer to the fabric of the relationship between Mallar and Srijan.

Inset: About the book’s author: Sudipto Pal is a statistician based in Bangalore and has been active in building and leading LGBT+ employee resource groups in the tech industry in India, helping recruitment of transgender individuals and developing corporate policies for LGBT+ associates. His short story 'The Boy Who Kept Karvachauth' (an English fiction published by Juggernaut Books) was highlighted by the 'Hindustan Times' for its take on an Indian traditional festival in a queer context.The novel traces a relationship between two boys, but the context of the story is barely influenced by the sexual orientation of the protagonists. This story takes the reader through a roller-coaster of emotions that many of us can relate to – irrespective of our sexual orientations or gender identities. This is where the author transcends stereotypes of gender-sexuality and creates something that is universal and wholesome, even while breaking the silence around same-sex love in middle class Bengali families.

The characters that Sudipto creates in his novel are surreal – they are sometimes so real that they make you cry, and sometimes too ideal to be true. This is where the author generates a mysterious milieu, where our adolescent fantasy and real-life struggles get blended into a magical realism.

The novel is pacy, not just in terms of the timeline, but also in terms of the expectation that each chapter creates in the mind of the reader for the next. The style of writing is lucid, free-flowing and romantic at the same time.

The storyline has a nice string of different emotions, including humour. However, there is an undertone of sublime melancholy in all the chapters. It is the kind of tingling numbness that brings tears of love to our eyes as we sit idle by a window on some winter afternoon. It is the type of sweet sorrow that we even crave for.

The author describes the individual scenes in quite literary details – be it the scenic beauty of a garden or the romantic foreplay of the protagonists. The lingering melancholy of the novel makes each such description more touching, and in retrospect, heart-wrenching.

Quote: There are situations in the story where Srijan forces Mallar to pledge not to fall in love with him; and there are situations where they both realize that this task is futile. The dilemma of the outer inhibition and implicit devotion creates the perfect plot for 'bhalo na-basha' (to not love). In fact, the negative title of the book reinforces the constant inability of the characters to not fall in love.There are situations in the story where Srijan forces Mallar to pledge not to fall in love with him; and there are situations where they both realize that this task is futile. The dilemma of the outer inhibition and implicit devotion creates the perfect plot for bhalo na-basha (to not love). In fact, the negative title of the book reinforces the constant inability of the characters to not fall in love. A story that starts with “a pledge of a life free of love, becomes a love that is without life”.

We have had very few romantic novels in contemporary Bengali literature, and even fewer queer-themed novels, like Bhalo Na Basar Galpo. Read it to revisit the tears that you may have buried deep into your pillows. If you have been feeling emotional flatness, this book may just help you feel that much more alive.

Bhalo Na Basar Galpo will be available at the ‘45th International Kolkata Book Fair’ from February 28 to March 13, 2022 at the Sristisukh Prokashon stall (No. 272), near gate No. 9, Central Park, Salt Lake, Kolkata – Editor.

About the main photo: Front cover of the book Bhalo Na Basar Galpo (Story of Not Being in Love) written by Sudipto Pal. Photo credit: Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta