The Hindu Prize 2019 Shortlist Books

The seed of the novel lies in disbelief: Shubhangi Swarup

Shubhangi Swarup, whose ‘Latitudes of Longing’ has been shortlisted for The Hindu Prize for Fiction, talks of the larger web of life and the necessity of humility in our relationship with nature

Shubhangi Swarup’s debut novel, Latitudes of Longing — acclaimed as the “novel of the year” by its publisher, HarperCollins — has been getting rave reviews ever since its publication in 2018. Expertly blending the natural with the supernatural (the cast includes a yeti searching for human company), Swarup explores fault lines that are as much geographical as psychological. One of the first Indian novels to engage with environmental changes, Latitudes of Longing features nature as a living, heaving entity. Excerpts from an interview:

Latitudes of Longing is such a rich and strange novel: how did you conceptualise it?

The seed of the novel lies in disbelief, for there exist patterns, connections and truths in nature that are beyond human grasp.

The seed of the novel lies in disbelief: Shubhangi Swarup

When you are standing in the high-altitude desert of Ladakh, the fossils and shells tell you a different tale and history. They tell you that it was once a seabed, just as the Andaman islands are mountain peaks sticking out of the ocean. The gems found in Myanmar speak of the profound geological violence witnessed by the region, and how the violence connects it to the Himalayan glaciers and valleys, and oceanic islands. A tectonic fault line is the narrative thread of my novel, and when you shift your gaze this way, a very different story emerges. One where natural history is the framework to our lives, not political borders or artificial plots.

You engage with climate change in the novel. What kind of research went into it and what conclusions regarding the environment have you arrived at on the basis of your extensive travels and studies?

It surprises me when my novel is termed as magic-realism or ecological fiction. It just shows how delusional the genre of

‘realism’ has become. We as a modern society aren’t invested in the environment sciences, natural history and larger web of life that nurtures us. As a result, the current discussions around climate emergency are myopic and solipsistic. They are devoid of the awe, love and personal investment our planet deserves.

And without this fundamental respect and awe, various catastrophes will keep occurring, if not this one. So let climate emergency be that necessary trigger for reflections, right from individual to civilisational. We don’t need manic fluctuations in temperature to include rainforests and blue whales in our national discussions, novels or films. We just need humility.

Your novel is full of solitary people. Is writing a solitary act?

My characters carry a profound solitude within them. Not only does it remain with them throughout, it also leads them to form bonds with other people, and with forces of nature. Writing, in a similar way, has helped me go deep within, and leap as far outside. Solitude as an experience can’t be reduced to a physical space or state of mind.

Parts of the novel were written in exotic locales all alone, but majority of it was written in a crowded house shared by nine people, where nothing, not even the page, was sacrosanct. Sometimes, my niece would scribble over things, or a family member note a number down on my manuscript.

In what ways does your work as a journalist feed into your fiction-writing?

My work as a journalist trained me to plan my research trips impeccably, to always have a plan B, sometimes even a plan C, but most importantly, to know that almost all plans fail, yet one succeeds. I took seven years to write the novel, as I had to manage day jobs along with the travels and writing.

Journalism taught me the value of deadlines, and sticking to them in the face of uncertainty.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 12:35:40 PM |

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