The Nonconformist: Sugar, Smoke, Song by Reema Rajbanshi review

Many readers of this review may or may not be aware of the rasa theory, but it is maintained that classic works of literature created within the boundaries of what is today known as South Asia engaged, as the narrative progressed, with the essences of nine moods known as rasas. Reema Rajbanshi’s very well-crafted Sugar, Smoke, Song attempts something similar though, perhaps, in a post-modern or her own way. Although I am not suggesting there’s an exact mapping of the text and theory here, the titles of the nine stories included in the collection seem to correspond to the emotion being explored more than an event or idea in the story. The first three stories — Ruins, BX Blues, and Orchard Beach — revolve primarily around Maina’s emotions, unresolved, relating to pain and loss resulting from tragedies outside anyone’s control, jealousy, and misunderstanding. As Maina wanders through the ruins of her memories, the reader tries to digest how a random knife attack scarring Maina’s sister’s face on a BX (the Bronx) subway can turn a pleasant place such as a beach into a horrible bonfire of anguish. The loss of parents further sharpens a sense of alienation surrounding the main character’s mood.