No Direction Rome: Kaushik Barua’s new book

Award winning author Kaushik Barua, who won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar for his debut novel Windhorse, has his second book in stores. No Direction Rome, published by Fourth Estate, the literary imprint from HarperCollins, was released in June.

 

No Direction Rome covers two weeks in the life of Krantik, a paranoid hypochondriac working in Rome. With its fragmented writing style and edgy humour, the narrative style mimics language as it’s reflected on social media. Krantik wades through the different versions of people’s lives on social media, till he wonders whether everything around him is merely ‘an image of an image’.

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Barua adds, “The novel addresses the fragmented sense of self troubling the young urban person spending most of his or her time on social media. This multiplicity of platforms on which one has to create alternate identities leaves one with an uncertain idea of what is real and what is merely an image that the social media user has created.”

 

The novel has drawn some great early praise, with the Daily O commending Barua for exploring the alienation of modern life: ‘Barua indulges in the cartography of urban loneliness, and delivers a map of this terrifying experience with finesse’. On The Week, No Direction Rome was highlighted as a story that ‘offers an insight into contemporary urban life’. Janice Pariat, winner of the Crossword Book Award and author of Boats on Land, termed Barua’s writing ‘tragicomic genius’. There has been some criticism as well, with some reviewers condemning the book for alleged insensitivities to religious figures.

 

But the author is quick to clarify, “Just because the fictional narrative is in first person doesn’t make it the author’s statement. Also, the protagonist may not be a likeable character and may have been created precisely as an entitled, self-obsessed character with delusions of grandeur. I think, unfortunately, some reviewers have missed this literary framing device entirely: attributing all opinions or statements by fictional characters to the author.”

 

No Direction Rome represents a radical shift in tone and theme for the author, whose first novel Windhorse was a work of historical fiction covering decades and spread across many countries, tracing the fortunes of the Tibetan refugee community. On the reason for the shift, Barua says, “Windhorse was inspired by the suffering, and the resilience, of the Tibetan community: their exile, their loss, and their resistance. It was a story that inspired me in ways that I couldn’t understand (especially since I had no direct connection to the struggle, but eventually built one through years of conversations with my Tibetan friends and research on the struggle). No Direction Rome is, in a sense, the mirror image of Windhorse: a self-aware ironic reflection on our entitled, self-obsessed urban generation, a generation that doesn’t have a real struggle to fight or even lose (of course, I refer only to a certain privileged class, there are enough people in our country or across the globe resisting against various deep forms of injustice). They will bemoan the state of global capitalism or politics without undertaking any real action- since a Facebook like or share does not count as real action.”

 

On his future writing plans, Barua doesn’t have any easy predictions: “I have tried to push the boundaries of Indian writing in English (and I mean that as my intention, don’t know if I have accomplished this in any measure). Windhorse addressed a key political, and ethical question, in the region that had not been covered in Indian fiction. And with No Direction Rome, I have tried to expand the idea of what is an ‘Indian’ novel.

 

Writing about an Indian character who lives abroad, I have totally abandoned any of the nostalgia that pervades all Indian diaspora writing and instead focus on the here-and-now. Going ahead, I want to disrupt narrative styles and frameworks even further in my fiction: I am thinking of a work where fiction blends into non-fiction and memoir, all underlined by some elements of the black humour seen in No Direction Rome. I have also been planning on writing something related to poverty and development for a long time, and have even discussed the idea with my editors. But we writers are notoriously slow with projects: we call it the inevitable cost of the creative process, but actually many of us are just plain lazy. I plan to correct that soon.”