Not ‘Solo’ anymore, Dasgupta takes a journey across Delhi-Wasfia Jalali,11 April 2010

Rana Dasgupta Takes a Journey Across Delhi

After hogging the limelight for his epic tale Solo set in a conflict-ridden Bulgaria, author Rana Dasgupta has embarked on a journey to chronicle the intense changes being witnessed by a city people love to write about – Delhi.

The British-Indian writer, whose latest work has been adjudged as the best book for the South Asia and Europe region in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, says it is interesting to note the forces that are at play in a fast changing and densely populated capital city.

Two novels old, Dasgupta, who is already working on his third book, has also for the first time broken into the genre of non-fiction.

“My next book is not a novel, its a book of non-fiction, I am taking a kind of journey around Delhi, trying to interview a lot people and trying to know what kinds of forces are in play in the city,” he told PTI in an interview.

Born in the UK, the 38-year old author whose first book Tokyo Cancelled was shortlisted for the 2005 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, is based in Delhi since the last nine years, and says his next book would in a way document the lives of people living in the city.

“We all know the city has witnessed a great intensity of change in the last 10 years, and there are so many people who have witnessed it,” he said.

After being adjudged the best book of the year in the South Asia and Europe region, Solo is now in contention for Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, to be announced here tomorrow.

Moving around the capital with eight other winners from four Commonwealth regions, Dasgupta says the fact that the contending literary works are drawn from such a large part of the world and are so varied makes the prize an important one.

“But the choice from here is always subjective, and a lot depends on personal choices,” he says.

His book Solo is the story that encompasses a century of communist and post-communist regimes in Bulgaria, and Dasgupta says the country in south eastern Europe was the best place to set the story of generations he wanted to write.

“At the time I finished my first book, there were certain things I wanted to write about, about human loss and politics. But I was also reading about Bulgaria at that time and developed a lot of interest in it, in its music,” he said.

After penning down Tokyo Cancelled in 2005, a book about 13 passengers telling their own tales after being struck at an airport, Dasgupta took the task of writing about life as perceived by a person over a generation.

In Solo, he tells the story of a near-centenarian Bulgarian man, sifting through his lifetime to find something worthwhile at the fag end of his life.

Through the eyes of the sightless man, Dasgupta writes about two centuries, as perceived by him, in a society that has seen a lot of conflict and is getting over with its previous experimentations.

“The challenge I set myself was to write about life, life not as an event but as a kind of generation, and Bulgaria was the best place as the setting of the story about a man who did so little,” he said.

“I thought it was a challenge to write about a very long time in which very little has happened,” he says.

The author is also excited about the fact that Delhi’s literary circles have seen a lot of positive activity in the last decade.

Besides the fact that books now sell in much larger numbers, than say a decade ago, Dasgupta feels a lot of change can also be seen in the content of writing of Indian writers in English.

“I think 10 years ago writers of literary fiction were quite isolated, in fact many of them had to leave the country in order to do what they did, be in London, New York, to get published,” he said.

The isolation was therefore also from their home country they were actually writing about.

“Since then the things have changed quite a lot, there is a lot of activity in Delhi, its not just in the publishing of books, but new magazines as well. We now see literary conversations and a literary culture develop,” he says.

“Publishing houses have more money and more opportunity to publish different kinds of books, and the kinds of things that people write about are also changing,” he said.

The writers of literary fiction in India, he said, have turned away from being preoccupied about certain things, like their identities.

“The writers are now writing what we may call a political statement about India, about India as an entity. The more we know about the country, the more voices we hear, more the stimuli on how and what to write,” he said.