Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
Kaushik Barua is the winner of the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar award for his first book, Windhorse, published by HarperCollins India in 2013. He is currently based in Rome, where he works with the United Nations. He has worked over the last decade in the development sector, supporting development projects across South Asia and West Africa. He graduated in economics from St. Stephen’s College in New Delhi and subsequently studied international politics and economics at the London School of Economics. His second book No Direction Rome released in May,2015.
For me, reading Kaushik Barua’s No Direction Rome and Windhorse back to back was a rollercoaster ride. From the two earlier reviews, you already know that I enjoyed the debut novel, but was unable to connect with the second one. There were shades of brilliance in No Direction Rome and that was the reason I decided to interview the author himself. I was intrigued by the stark difference in the writing style and a bit upset too as I couldn’t get my head around the second book. An interview with the versatile author gave an insight into what he wanted to convey in both the books.
Watch out for Kaushik Barua’s next, because i will definitely be interested to see what he churns out!!!!!
TGBC: Inspirations behind both the books?
KB: In the case of Windhorse, clearly it was the suffering and the struggle of the Tibetan community. Though the story wasn’t mine, it moved me in ways I couldn’t understand. But then, empathy and inspiration are whimsical beasts and you never know what might move you beyond comprehension. I was obsessed with the struggle, awed by the courage and resilience I saw in so many of my Tibetan friends (I was, at the same time, careful not to have unrealistic expectations or create super-human cultural stereotypes in my head about the community). And my obsession led me to countless conversations, years of trawling through archives and footage, drafts and re-drafts and re-re-drafts that led to Windhorse, which is set on the real-life struggles of the community.
In the case of No Direction Rome, you could say it’s inspired by the opposite: the rootlessness of our generation (especially the urban, social-media soaked generation), the fact that we don’t have a struggle, not even a losing cause that we believe in, the absurdity and banality of our urban lives and struggles. (Of course, I am speaking of a certain class- there are enough people who struggle for the basic rights and experiences that we take for granted.) At another level, it’s also about the fragmentation of our identities across different social media and platforms. Krantik, the narrator, records every detail and broadcasts them for the reader, somewhat like people on Facebook. Only, instead of curated photos of his dessert, he provides graphic (even unpalatable) details of all his obsessions: his haemorrhoids, the aesthetic appeal of his blood in the toilet bowl, his complete and sacrilegious disregard for the gods, who he sees as products of pop culture- cultural fiction created over generations of brainwashing- and for whom he reserves special contempt. He is self-obsessed and delusional and paranoid (minor symptoms swell into life-threatening diseases in his head thanks to obsessive searches on google): an appropriate character for our times and our generation.
TGBC: Your personal favourite from the two as the writer and why?
KB: That’s a really difficult question, even an unfairly cruel one. I hate to sound clichéd, but I value both experiences for different reasons. As a first book, and a labour of love spanning over many years, Windhorse is special, and will always remain special for me. But with No Direction Rome, I have tried to do a lot with the language and narrative voice. It’s a very self-aware, ironic voice. Like Krantik says, everything is ‘an image of an image of an image’, so his self-aware rant is also just that: an image of an image. And the bizarre. dark humour was developed over thousands of hours spent on online communities such as reddit, where language and humour are now moving to newer forms.
TGBC: What next?
KB: I’m working with a few ideas. In fiction, I’m thinking of working on something that disrupts the framework of a narrative further: a story that refuses to be told, falls apart, digresses into non-fiction/ autobiography, meanders into another story. With non-fiction, I have worked on development-related issues for many years now, and would like to write something based on my experiences. It would be difficult, because sustainable development occurs at the crossroads of so many different worlds (culture, rural/ informal economies, politics, macro-economic influences and of course individual initiatives). But development often fails because of a lack of imagination: people who frame policies lack the imagination to understand the lives, fears and aspirations of the people affected by their policies. Maybe my training as a development economist and as a story-teller could help me bridge that gap.
But most importantly, I intend to write just what I please and to enjoy myself thoroughly while doing it!!!