“Kintsugi” by Anukrti Upadhyay

Kintsugi, Anukrti Upadhyay (HarperCollins India, July 2020) Kintsugi, Anukrti Upadhyay (HarperCollins India, July 2020)

The title of Anukrti Upadhyay’s new novel is a Japanese word that literally means “to join with gold”. It is the art of repairing things that are broken to create strong, beautiful fault lines. These lines remain as reminders of something that was vulnerable. The lines in Kintsugi are visible right at the beginning when Upadhyay “joins” the two worlds of India and Japan; it’s a move that is still relatively rare for Indian writers even with today’s increasingly blurred literary boundaries. 

Kintsugi opens in the crowded lanes of Jaipur’s jewelers’ market or Johri Bazaar. At the end of her design school program, Haruko comes to Jaipur as an apprentice to study Indian jewellery design. She befriends Leela, her mentor’s daughter, and teaches her the craft that she is learning. A freak accident brings her to the hospital nearby. She soon becomes close to Prakash, the doctor who cares for her. Prakash shares his frustrations about his relationship with his fiancee, Meena, a student of literature in Tokyo and her inexplicable refusal to return to India.

With Haruko coming to India and Meena living in Japan, Upadhyay highlights the growing cultural interchange that’s shaping the multilingual literary landscape today. Kintsugi embodies this undercurrent of change and the interplay of the local and global.

But Kintsugi also describes the line that binds Haruko, Prakash, Meena, and Leela who are broken in their own ways. Some hearts mend. Leela and Haruko find their paths towards a semblance of wholeness. Some remain broken. Prakash continues his quest to find meaning. But as Haruko says, “Broken things are precious too.” Upadhyay emphasizes the acceptance of imperfection, which can be likened to the associated Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi which, like kintsugi, values transience and incompleteness. It is the beauty of being flawed.

 

The bowl had uneven golden lines running all over it. Haruko glanced at the picture. ‘That’s a broken clay bowl mended with gold.’ Leela’s eyes widened. ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’

 

The true gems of this book shine not in the jewellery, but in the use of local language.

Each character has a story that resonates, although not always the same level. And it’s the thread of love—not just romantic love—that connects their lives and stories, just like the bowl, knitting them together. Haruko is smitten by the glittering world of jewellery-making, and she follows the jewels where they take her: New York, then Belgium, Jaipur, and onward to other places. Meena falls in love with Japan and, in many ways, with herself as she discovers a new sense of identity, unfettered by the boundaries of society back home.

 

What I did not tell her was that I walked everywhere—inside the campus, to the supermarket outside the university, through Roppongi at night—wearing anything I wanted, a miniskirt or a pair of shorts or my long kurta, and no one started or whistled or tried to paw me.

 

Each character’s individual presence is like a piece of life that comes together, melded gracefully by Upadhyay’s writing. Her prose, spare and simple, delicately takes shape much like the bracelet that Haruko works on or the thewa pendant that Leela crafts.

The true gems of this book shine not in the jewellery, but in the use of local language—thewa, sunar, kundansaaz—terms describing the craft of jewellery design. No translation is provided. But like the people and their stories in Kintsugi, they are perfect in that imperfection.


Swati Nair is a writer, editor and reviewer based in Dublin.