In conversation with Siddharth Dasgupta, author of Letters From An Indian Summer, where we talk about his newest book, The Sacred Sorrow of Sparrows: A Collection of Lives, his love for books and writing, and on human nature.
Tell us a little about the new book.
It’s a collection of ten individual short stories. It’s a meditation on melancholy and sadness as viewed from a very cultural prism. It spreads itself across a universal canvas and yet it is quite ethnic in its fabric. It mainly concentrates itself in cultures that are immersed in the idea of sadness. There are stories in the collection based in the Middle East, India, Japan, Turkey, Iran and even Tokyo. While it is an immersion into sorrow, it is not a very sad collection of stories. Sadness plays a very crucial role in this collection.
Why sadness as a theme?
I think it is the most potent of all human emotions. The human race goes through the same spectrum of emotions no matter where we live in the world; love, happiness, regret and all of that, but I feel sadness is the one that lingers the longest. In a piece of literature, stories immersed in sadness have a romantic, lyrical tinge to them. I wanted to see sadness through the eyes of others, separating myself from the narrative, and look at life from the perspective of people across different lands and see if I could find a way out of it.
Your first book was inspired by real people, places and incidents. Is that true of your second book?
It is to an extent. A lot of the characters are people I’ve probably met at some point of time, or at least amalgamations of people I’ve met. So a lot of the characters have a root in real life, and are mixes of a variety of experiences and people. When I’m travelling I don’t travel with the intention of writing a story, but years later something from those travels may strike me – a character, or a situation perhaps. It’s a very organic process.
What made you shift from a love story of sorts to writing about sorrow?
To be honest it doesn’t seem like that much of a shift. Letters From An Indian Summer was a love story that had several shades of sadness. It wasn’t a typical happy, skippy, movie-like, sentimental love story. It had a lot of emotions and similarly The Sacred Sorrow of Sparrows: A Collection of Lives also has a lot of textures, but sadness is at the core of it all. So, to me it didn’t seem like that much of a jump; it seemed more like a natural progression.
Are there any other parallels between the two books?
I would be the most obvious parallel between the two books (laughs). Content-wise, I think the style of writing, which is very lyrical and rhythmic – that is something that would be constant no matter what genre of storytelling I embark upon. Another parallel would be the exploration of love, which is a fairly immersive, poetic love suffused in sorrow; that and the narrative spreading itself across many different cities across the world.
Do you personally think your writing has evolved as an author?
As you go along you experience, touch, read and feel more. You become more attuned to your own writing. That leads to the natural progression of growth. This book is a more nuanced, poetic and intelligent narrative. So I guess there has been a sub-conscious evolution, I would hope.
Where do you usually write, or go to get inspired to write?
There’s a clutch of different places. Early morning at home, with the sunlight streaming in, is where a fairly large chunk of writing happens. Sometimes while I’m out on the road, or travelling to different cities and countries. Maybe a small cafe where I have enough physical and mental space to think about the characters and write. It depends on multiple factors.
Do you have any plans for your next book?
I’m immersed in a lot of poetry currently, and later this year I plan to release my first collection of poetry. To me poetry is a beautiful, freeing art-form; you just need to free up your hand, you just need to write. Some other things are brewing, I don’t know what it will result in – more poetry, a novel or another collection of short stories, but something is always brewing, I just haven’t been able to pin point. I will probably let it ferment for a while longer before I figure it out.
What is your advice for people who want to become authors/poets?
From my personal experience, writing, language and literature have always been a part of my life. It was the only thing I was truly obsessed with. I’d say for anyone who wants to write a book, writing should have been a part of your life in some way or the other. It is an organic shift if you have a writing background. At the very least one needs to be consumed by books and literature or be attuned to the art and discipline of writing on a daily basis that it becomes a very natural step for one to take.