With Inveterate Curiosity
Sanjay Dasgupta on what prompted his first novel.
||Mon, Jun 30 2014|
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“Curiosity didn’t kill the cat. It died because it jumped -- to the wrong conclusion.” Where did I read that? A stray line, that lodges itself in memory, is like a stray thought – disconcertingly adept at rearing its head at unexpected moments, difficult to get rid of, irritatingly persistent. Which is why it didn’t come as a surprise when it struck me again, the other day, in complete, and elegant, irrelevance to the topic under discussion.
I had met up with a couple of old friends. We were in the manicured lawns of a venerable London establishment, enjoying the pleasant glow of a languid afternoon, and discussing – what else, but Calcutta! Somehow the discussion had veered towards modern Indian fiction and, as ever when a group of friends are meeting, it had progressed towards animated debate. Did the best fiction only get written under the pressures of dire poverty? We discussed authors who had been born rich, and others who were indigent. It was at this point that I blurted out, that though I had never enjoyed unearned wealth, nor experienced undeserved poverty, I had also tried my hand at fiction. My first novel, Other Lives Other Fragments, has just been published. Had I taken an unpardonable literary gamble?
“That is what makes the literary world so rich in its variety,” my friend said, “that fact that, alongside the big names of international literature, authors from more humble backgrounds, and from different walks of life write, too, and are read by those who find an interest.”
“But,” he went on, “tell me what moved you to write a novel?”
“Inveterate curiosity,” I replied, almost without thinking, as it had really been the spur that had driven me to hammer out the first, tentative sentences on my keyboard. And that was when that phrase of forgotten origin returned again, like a niggling doubt. Did I resemble the curious cat? Had I jumped to the wrong conclusion when I had decided to write a novel?
It feels strange to think back on the origins of one’s own work. What unreconstructed optimism, what wellsprings of emotion and experience had driven me to write those first few sentences? There was hope, most decidedly. The rest, I do not recall. What I do remember is an urge to tell the story of India as I felt her in my bones through the vanished years of childhood and adolescence, and then, through two decades of journalism inside the country and abroad -- watching her unfold like a mega-television serial, projected in real time and magnified to a giant scale.
No, it is not an autobiographical novel. You could, if you wanted to, call it the potted biography of country. India in all its opacity and vividness, with its grand narrative and its fine print, in the soaring spirit of its successes and through the abject despair of its failures – that is the India I wanted to write about, those are the people who people the pages of my book.
One reviewer has called it an ambitious tale. Others have agreed or disagreed with different parts of the book. But it has been gratifying to note that all of them have said it is a tale well told. Ultimately, that is what good fiction is about – telling a story that touches a chord. If this book succeeds in doing that, at least to some readers, some of the time, I will consider my efforts to have been amply rewarded.
Where does on go from here? Amazingly, for me, the answer to that particular query had been provided by a senior colleague in journalism, much before the question had been asked! “Everyone has one book inside him or her. It is the second novel that makes you a novelist, the second book that makes you an author,” he had said.
That was years before I had even begun to plot my first novel. But it was at that moment, walking beside the Thames on a bright London morning that I decided that I would, one day, write my second novel. The first one is now out. I await your verdict.
‘Other Lives, Other Fragment’ is available in major bookstores in Britain, India and on Amazon and Flipkart
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Kajari Guha (Tuesday, Aug 5 2014):
Got very much inspired by the article!I would like to go through the novel.Please share the secrets of publishing short stories.
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