Spectrums of a Universe || Shome Dasgupta


Credit: Psy Today

Spectrums of a Universe

by Shome Dasgupta

I was gifted with Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing from my parents after behaving during a night when we all went to the apartment of one of my dad’s colleagues. The whole time we were at the friend’s place, I was re-reading One Thousand and One Nights, immersed in the multitude of worlds rotating within the pages. When we were driving home after the gathering, and I was half asleep, I heard my dad tell me that we would be visiting Waldenbooks the next day—it was located in the Acadiana Mall. Along with B. Dalton Bookseller, which was also in the same shopping center, they were the only bookstores in Lafayette, LA.

I picked Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing purely based on the cover, and when we returned home, I sat on the red recliner in the living room and read it from beginning to end. The next day, I did the same—I re-read it over and over each day for about a month. I was in love with Blume’s book, and it was the first time I related to a character in a work of fiction. Having an older brother, and attending grade school, every word was real to me, relating to the humorous or seemingly serious frustrations of growing up at such an age. My brother and I even took care of a three-legged turtle.

It wasn’t until some years later I felt exactly the same way when I read J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Though Peter Hatcher and Holden Caulfield were roughly eight to ten years apart in age, I immediately felt a connection between them. Again, there was that sibling relationship in Salinger’s novel, and the angst and love for Phoebe mirrored that same kind of emotion exhibited from Peter when it came to his brother Fudge. A part of me thinks that Holden is an extension of Peter’s personality or youthful existential crisis, if we were to continue to read about the latter’s character, as he grew older and crossed fictional universes—Tales of a High School Dropout, perhaps. In both books, I connected most to those sentiments of growing up and all the anxieties and philosophical musings children experience which sometimes are dismissed by adults, and it was one of the main reasons why I continued to read—in search of mirrors full of resemblances of shared sensibilities. Here were two characters, who came from seemingly different backgrounds and cultures from my own; however, the commonality of the experiences we all shared, no matter the differences of where any of us grew up, was what guided me inside their own lives to find a home.

That very same kind of familiarity, I eventually found while I was in college in both movies and novels related to my East Indian descent—Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s Pather Panchali, which was later turned into a film by Satyajit Ray, contained those familiar elements of isolation and seemingly esoteric mindsets. Again, there was a sibling dynamic found in these works. However, François Truffaut’s 400 Blows focused on the solo Antoine Doinel and his wanderings as a misunderstood miscreant, as viewed by his world magnified by the proximal, societal expectations of the late 1950s in France. This particular setting could have provided another divide for me to find a resemblance in identity, but again, the coming-of-age facet went beyond cultural separation, linking me to a transcendental belonging through the glass of the television. Perhaps, externally, I felt such a bond to this movie, not because of Antoine’s spiritual and physical journeys through the New Wave lens, but more so because it was my older brother who introduced me to the stylings of Truffaut in the same way that Holden would maybe tell Phoebe about it, or Peter talking to Fudge about the heavy meanings of Saturday morning cartoons.   

The nomad—such as in Amit Chaudhuri’s Odysseus Abroad, in which the title speaks to the concept itself or Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, also emitting the same tones of alienation and searching for the purposes of life, for me, all relate back to that morning of going to the Acadiana Mall and being gifted with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club where cultures and mothers and daughters are both dissected and magnified at the same time when it comes to identities and generational similarities and differences. Realistic fiction—I guess that’s what it’s called—was not the only grounds for finding my reflections in the pond, but even such a novel as Laura Esquivel’s family saga Like Water for Chocolate, where magical realism added a whole new layer of seeking and finding one’s identity among seemingly fictional universes—to struggle and break through and find a chair at the dinner table, indeed.

My own wanderings and journeys—however unintentional or otherwise—I have found in some way or another to be further propelled by these mediums and mirrors existing in such storytelling, and as I searched for the very same purposes that these characters were all seeking, and as I continued to hop between the lines and sentences or float between the movie camera and the screen, the more I realized that all of this would not breathe if it wasn’t for the red recliner in the living room where I first sat and read Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing years ago. I don’t know where that piece of furniture is set now—perhaps, at another’s home, or maybe it was thrown away, and it’s long gone, or maybe it was chopped up and used for other purposes, but regardless of its situation, it will always float in my head as spectrums of a universe.

Shome Dasgupta is the author of The Seagull And The Urn (HarperCollins India), and most recently, the novels The Muu-Antiques (Malarkey Books) and Tentacles Numbing (Thirty West), a prose collection, Histories Of Memories (Belle Point Press), and a poetry collection, Iron Oxide (Assure Press). His writing has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, New Orleans Review, Jabberwock Review, American Book Review, Arkansas Review, Magma Poetry, and elsewhere. He lives in Lafayette, LA and can be found at www.shomedome.com and @laughingyeti.


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