Charting unknown territories is British Indian writer’s forte

New Delhi : There’s no mention of “comfort zone” in British Indian author Rana Dasgupta’s dictionary. He is more comfortable with exploring unknown territories to inject oxygen into his writings by offering fresh perspectives into the cities that haven’t been written about, or cities that have
crossed the exhaustion mark in literature.

“When there is a common consensus that there is nothing to be written about a certain place, I want to go and find out if there is something that hasn’t been told before,” said Dasgupta, who was in conversation with publisher Chiki Sarkar the at Alliance Française here Tuesday evening.

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One of the 42-year-old author’s previous novels – “Solo” (Harper Collins) – and his recent release “Capital: A Portrait of Twenty-First Century Delhi (Canongate) fall into these extreme categories.

While “Solo” is set in Bulgaria and is told from the perspective of a 100-year-old native, the latest is part observation-part conversation non-fictional writing on the changing landscape and culture of the Indian capital as seen from a person wasn’t born here.

“For ‘Capital’, I felt it was extremely important to imagine the city and laid it out in a completely different way. It was more about knowing what people have to say about the changes the city had gone through in the past decade,” said the author who made a brilliant debut with “Tokyo Cancelled” (Harper Collins) that was shortlisted for the 2005 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.

“Whosoever comes to a new city is in a constant dialogue with it and is constantly asking question: what is so valuable about the place that you want to keep and how different is it from the city you have lived in,” he added.

Born in Canterbury, he grew up in Cambridge, which he describes as a “white-dominated, quaint English town of Cambridge”. Dasgupta made Delhi his home in 2001 and hence, his third novel offers a slice of the capital told from an outsider’s perspective, yet he is someone who belongs here.

By telling stories about urbanisation, relationships and changing landscapes and talking to different people like a gay designer, a divorced woman and an elderly
couple, the author also breaks into monologues and many conversations with his father in the novel.

How then, did “Solo” come about?

He heard Bulgarian music and became immensely interested in the East European that shares its borders with Romania, Serbia Macedonia, Greece and Turkey and the Black Sea.

Then began visits to Bulgaria, where he realised that authors were writing about everything under the sun, except about their own country.

“I found myself in this small country that fears it will be wiped up by other countries and Bulgarian authors weren’t writing about it anyway. So, I decided to take the most ambitious decision of my life by writing about a place whose geography I didn’t know,” Dasgupta recollected.

“Bulgarians found their land totally barren because it is so melancholy for them. Even though my novel too is melancholy, I discovered this melancholic nation for myself,” he added.

Dasgupta’s literary oeuvre isn’t restricted by the chain of actions of his characters or emotional settings, but falls in a space which is imaginative and seeking different possibilities about the future, keenly observing the past and mediating about the present.

“I really like to engage with the reality,” he mentioned.

“I start with concepts, then fill up the characters and emotions,” he added.

Taking fours years to write a novel, nothing bothers Dasgupta when he is weaving stories or sketching characters.

“Four years to write each book is a solitary process. That is the time I am not thinking about the readers,” he said.

Drawing an analogy, he said: “It is like building a house. You see and marvel at the architectural space, how bricks are set and a house is built. That very moment you don’t think much about who will live there because you are absorbed in getting its foundation right.”