Siddharth Dasgupta is a 33-year-old Indian writer who fled a momentous 14-year career in advertising for the warmth and potency of the written word. Having lived for well over a decade in foreign lands, much of it in the Middle East, Siddharth returned home to India in 2011. He’s led agencies as a Creative Director and forged a distinct artistic path as a Designer, but writing has always been his overriding passion. Besides being a novelist, Siddharth also writes on travel and lifestyle for a gamut of global publications including Condé Nast Traveller and Travel + Leisure.
Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Siddharth. In what way did the title of your debut book, Letters from an Indian Summer, justify its theme?
Siddharth Dasgupta: Thanks Vinita. Letters form an important element of the novel, at times being the only bridge between the two central protagonists. And while it’s not an epistolary novel, the letters aspect of the book is undeniable— they helped me create a non-linear device for the plot, allowing me to skip back and forth in time and place. With regards to the ‘Indian Summer’ aspect of the title, it’s more an Indian Summer of the mind really—a treacherous, fragile state of being that these characters find themselves in. So the title was fairly justified. And it had a nice, poetic cadence to it, which never hurts.
Vinita Kinra: Your novel travels across continents, something you like to do, too. How much of this book is autobiographical?
Siddharth Dasgupta: Much of this book is rooted in real life—in things that have taken place, in places that have been traversed, in experiences that have been relished: in people, faces, moments, and cities that have ended up leaving an indelible mark in some way or the other.
Vinita Kinra: Why did you choose letters as opposed to modern means of communication to express love between your main protagonists?
Siddharth Dasgupta: Both my characters—Arjun Bedi and Genevieve Casta—are old-school in a way. They have a leaning towards a certain vintage charm, the sort that outlives fads and gimmickry. Letters seemed to be quite a natural choice for them to make. Besides, for me as an author, the thought of taking a true, potent romance forward via the highly unromantic means of SMS and WhatsApp would have been quite unthinkable, to say the least. In thought and scope, it’s an epic love story in many ways, albeit a contemporary one. Modern communication would’ve felt wrong.
Vinita Kinra: In your perspective, what’s the biggest challenge in multicultural romance?
Siddharth Dasgupta: At times, it’s distance; at other times, it’s the fragility of the unknown; and then there’s a slight dissonance that tends to creep in from time to time. Of course, all these things also tend to bring about a rich texture and a rare fragrance to the whole affair. Which is what happens when this Indian photographer and French artist come colliding into each other.
Vinita Kinra: How smooth or bumpy was the journey of publishing your maiden novel?
Siddharth Dasgupta: In hindsight, I would say it was a fairly pleasant and satisfying journey. There were challenges and moments of sublime frustration of course, as there always should be. At times, it felt as though I was trudging up Everest in sneakers and a vest. But knowing firsthand what authors have to go through to get their books out, and in the manner that they seek, I feel quite fulfilled about the journey of this first novel.
Vinita Kinra: Do you think writing books is soon becoming a viable career option in India where traditional mentality subscribed time-tested professions of medicine, engineering, law, and the like?
Siddharth Dasgupta: Those traditional time-tested professions you’ve mentioned have been losing their sway—slowly and steadily—for nearly a couple of decades now. Young people have been looking towards passions, not careers, for some time now. So you have experiential travel startups, independent design studios, freelance photographers and the like flourishing everywhere you look. I don’t know where writing stands in this landscape, though. Save for a tiny, tiny exception, writing has never truly been a viable career option—and here, I’m speaking globally. You tend to write to quench a burning rage or an indefinable thirst within you. If the money were to follow as a consequence, well that’s a bit of divine synergy.
Vinita Kinra: If you were marooned on an island with just one book, which would it be and why?
Siddharth Dasgupta: Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk. Because magic resides in the strangest of places.
Vinita Kinra: Our readers would like to sample an excerpt from your debut book, Letters from an Indian Summer.
The restlessness within Arjun’s heart seemed to be slowly gathering pace, like an onward journey slowly accumulating dust in its wake. He knew this had nothing to do with Genevieve. Well, it did have something to do with her, obviously. Her sudden, quite unbelievable arrival in Poona, the dormant chemistry between them being instantly sparked to life, the deluge of memories, the travels that had followed, and this journey itself, a voyage guided by the stars along what could only be a purely predestined path, surely, they had to have had contributed in part to his current state of being.
But he also knew that Genevieve had never made or left him restless. In fact, in all the four years he’d known her, she had only ever had the opposite effect on him. Even in the throes of passion, in the rising rush of physical lust, and while on thrilling escapades in foreign lands, Genevieve had always been the soothing antidote to the world’s rough veneer, her softness a striking blow at the heart of the world’s brazen shell. No, none of this could ever be laid at her doorstep.
For her part, Genevieve was beginning to feel the weight of keeping a crucial part of her life hidden from Arjun for so long. The magical force with which everything in Poona had occurred had left her with no time to gather herself and take stock of things. And then there was Banaras. It had been a whirlwind . . . of the past, of the present, of the tomorrows wrapped in a bouquet of old memories, and of a bond that, with the passing of time, only entrenched itself further in her heart . . . a mad, mad whirlwind. She had never been a secretive woman, not with Arjun at least, but circumstances have a way of forcing people to step out of character.
At first, she had been too consumed by meeting Arjun again to think of anything else. Those first few days had been a gentle dance of getting to know him again and rekindling the connection with adequate care. At each step, there had been something holding her back from confronting herself and revealing everything to him. She had been swept up by a rising current that had only grown stronger and swifter each day, until now, when she finally knew that she might just have gone too far.
It was with this confluence of baggage that they reached Delhi on a crisp November evening, the drama they thought they’d left behind in Banaras tiptoeing behind them silently to India’s regal, incomprehensible capital.