He’s learning different aspects of life
Rana Dasgupta was “a bit stunned” to hear that he’s the winner of this year’s Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the Best Book. At least that’s what he said. I guess, he didn’t quite imagine that he would win this prize for his debut novel Solo. But now that he has made it, he won’t be surprised the next time.
Let’s get back to the Solo. Ulrich, the blind protagonist in the novel is a 100-year-old Bulgarian who lives in Sofia, a city where stories changed after “the former villains were cast in bronze and put up in parks”. Ulrich’s ruminations about the past — real and imaginary — take the reader through the history of Bulgaria. That’s interesting in a way, I’d say. A story set in Bulgaria winning the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, though Bulgaria was never part of the British Empire. Perhaps it’s the effect of globalisation that goes much beyond the Commonwealth, a rubric under which the British past thrives.
Anyway, I did get in touch with Dasgupta amidst his post-prize busy schedule. What does the prize mean to him, I ask. “When you’re a writer of a literary fiction, it’s difficult to know if what you do is really good. Prizes help to reassure you in that respect,” he tells me. “They help you to go on producing new work without that nagging doubt,” Dasgupta adds.
Solo, which the author calls “a book of life and a book of daydreams about a crazy man”, is Dasgupta’s second book. The first one being Tokyo Cancelled, where 13 people, stranded at an airport due to unscheduled landing, tell stories. I ask the author how will he describe his creative journey so far. “The two books are different from each other. With each book that I write, I want to explore very different parts of myself, and learn about very different aspects of life. The quest that the characters go on is also my own quest,” he asserts. “I think, I should start each book with fear, not knowing if I can really do it. That sense of danger is good for the writing”. Therefore, Dasgupta remains somewhat clueless about the end of the book. “I start knowing nothing, and hope to know a little bit more when it’s over,” he says. He certainly did so for Solo, as he studied the history of Bulgaria.
Born in England, Dasgupta grew up there, studied at Balliol College in Oxford, the Conservatoire Darius Milhaud in Aix-en-Provence and in the USA. He has been living in Delhi for the past decade. His transcontinental experience “certainly gives” him “a sense that reality is never simple,” he says. “There are always different ways of seeing at it. Perhaps that’s a useful sense to have in these days of globalisation”. Having said that he adds, India is the place which is “giving birth to the 21st century”.
Perhaps that’s why he is now writing a book on Delhi. The idea of the book, as he says, was derived from his own essay that was published in the Granta magazine. In that essay, Dasgupta offered his stark analysis about Delhi’s love affair with the rich and powerful, the consumerist euphoria that has infected the society, and the real-estate boom around that city. So what can we expect from the forthcoming book? “I don’t know yet,” he admits. “But I want to write it as a portrait of 21st-century Delhi. I think, the things I’ve seen in Delhi during the decade I’ve lived here, are of great significance, not only for Delhi but for the world. It seems important to record and reflect upon them,” the 38-year-old says before signing off from the Capital.