I had been looking forward to Rana Dasgupta's reading ever since Deepika had informed me about it. Rana too was kind enough to drop me an email reminding me of the event. There was no way I could have given it a miss, even though I was working on that day.
Why was I interested in Rana Dasgupta?
To be frank, I have not read his debut novel, Tokyo Cancelled except in snatches. Like many other good novels, it lies unread in my list of must-read novels.
Was it the celebrity value then? The star power of a novelist? Maybe not. The star power of a novelist, seeing and listening to a writer about whom one had only read in the media and talked amongst friends, has got diluted over the years. He is among the dozens of young novelists that India produces on a regular basis year after year. He is not a Naipaul or a Rushdie, with many works and numerous awards under his belt. He has so far written only one novel. So why was I interested?
Rana is not a run of the mill author, I believed instinctively (unlike so many other young Indian writers crowding the scene today), that's why. I carried this impression after reading some of his pieces that appeared in newspapers and are available on his blog. Chucking a well-paying marketing job and globe-trotting lifestyle for the dead calm of a writerly life in Delhi is a gutsy decision for anyone to take. Rana had done that, and that impresses me most about him. "To decide to become a writer was an arrogant decision," he said during the one hour plus talk. There it is. I like this kind of stuff, when a writer says these kind of things, because when one talks like that, one knows that here is a man who understands what it means to be a writer, to decide to be a writer which comes with a certain obligation to the calling. That kind of seriousness in a writer is what impresses me most.
It took Naipaul five books to writer whenceupon he became sure of the fact that he had actually become a writer. To believe that you have become a writer, that you are a writer, is a big leap of faith. It is not a hollow pronouncement. It comes with certain givens that you have to respect and live with. That is very important to realise and I believed Rana was that kind of a Writer, a writer with a capital W.
Whatever passages Rana read from his forthcoming novel, tentatively called "Half Life" (a term taken from atomic physics, bears no connection to Naipaul's Half a Life), were mesmerising to say the least. In the reading, a retired, over 100-years-old, nearly blind methusaleh in Bulgaria takes in the view of the city from his window. The tapestry of images and sounds that Rana has woven is marvellous and reminded me of the prose of Borges, Marquez and Coetzee. It was sheer pleasure to hear him read those passages.
During the talk, peppered with innocuous yet perceptive questions from some of the students, Rana talked about many things. Why he decided to settle down in Delhi (love, conversations with a set of creatively-inclined friends), why did he name his novel Tokyo Cancelled (he didn't and it could have been NY Cancelled or London Cancelled but he wanted to shift the focus to an Asian setting for his tale of globalisation), how cinematic images inform his sense of setting a scene in his works (he mentioned a little known movie that showed New York's highways and bridges completely empty of people or vehicles, I forgot the name of the film), how he admires the short stories of Roald Dahl (when a kid asked him about his fav children's author) and what he was trying to do in his next novel (Half Life), due out in early 2009.
For a view from the other side of the table, read Deepika Shetty's post on the event. You will enjoy reading it.