Past Continuous

Just like his protagonist Ulrich,writer Rana Dasgupta collected bits and pieces of what would become Solo,his second novel. About a decade ago...

Written by Anushreemajumdar | Published: February 23, 2009 3:36 am

In his second novel,Rana Dasgupta straddles the worlds that were and those that could have been

Just like his protagonist Ulrich,writer Rana Dasgupta collected bits and pieces of what would become Solo,his second novel. About a decade ago,when he was living in London,Dasgupta felt the book begin to form itself as conversations with friends,and the daily news about the Bulgarian economic crisis fuelled an interest in that country.

Solo (HarperCollins,Rs 395) is the story of Ulrich,a 100-year-old Bulgarian man,who,having realised that time is running out for him,begins to gather his memories together lest they fade away after his death. “I was in the middle of writing my first book,Tokyo Cancelled,when I visited the Bulgarian capital of Sofia in 2003. I was interested in how the post-Soviet meltdown had affected the various separated states that had now become independent,” says Dasgupta,who spent the next few years mapping out the threads of Ulrich’s existence,the real and the imaginary.

Music and chemistry play important roles in Ulrich’s story,which is divided into two parts — “Life” and “Daydreams”. The first dwells on Ulrich’s reality,his rather ordinary existence in the extraordinary times of World War I and II,his un-pursued musical ambitions,his failed marriage and his fractured relationships with people around him. With “Daydreams,” the book takes off into a realm of stories. These are Ulrich’s creative diversions,all the daydreams,all the success he has been experiencing in his secret,fictitious life. “What happens to our human ambitions,hopes and promises that are never kept? They don’t annihilate themselves. We make peace with them. His daydreams are Ulrich’s “solo”,this is his novel,the one that he has been writing within himself,” says Dasgupta.

“I wanted to write a story of a 100-year-old man who achieves nothing. In an age where our lives are measured by achievements,I wanted to strip Ulrich of all the trappings of success and look at the ‘inner life’ within each person,” says Dasgupta,whose use of music throughout the book sets it apart from his first work. “The music bits are slightly autobiographical. I played the piano as a child and went to music school,but did not take it up as a profession,” he adds.

The use of music and chemistry in the book,Dasgupta says,highlights how a group of finite elements can create an infinite number of expressions. In an unfulfilled life like Ulrich’s,these two creative processes emerge as tools of survival.

Unburdened by the pressure to write an “Indian” novel,Dasgupta feels that Indian writers should also unfetter themselves and write about events apart from the tropes that make up the very-Indian literature of this age. “If Indian writers are to be a part of the global conversation,they have to step out of this narrow category,” says Dasgupta.

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