Indian author’s fiction on social media obsessions
After winning the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar for his debut novel “Windhorse”, author Kaushik Barua is ready with his second fiction “No Direction Rome.”
The new novel covers two weeks in the life of an Indian consultant working in Rome and has been published in hardcover by Fourth Estate, the literary imprint of HarperCollins.
Krantik, the main character, is a paranoid hypochondriac and obsesses constantly about social media. With its fragmented writing style and edgy humour, the novel reflects the multiple worlds in which the young millennial generations live their lives.
The author describes Krantik as a modern-day Holden Caulfield, now in his mid-30s and living in a multi-cultural social-media-soaked world. The novel has drawn comparison to renowned authors in the stream-of-consciousness genre, with the publisher’s blurb describing the book as a work where ‘Jack Kerouac meets James Joyce’.
Janice Pariat, winner of the Crossword Book Award and author of Boats on Land, termed Barua’s writing as “tragicomic genius.”
Barua has shifted significantly in terms of the narrative style and the themes he covers in his second novel.
While “Windhorse” was a work of historical fiction featuring the Tibetan refugee community, spanning across many countries and decades in its narrative, “No Direction Rome” is a more in-depth psychological work, focusing on one character and using this examination as an unflinching commentary on the aspirations and fears of today’s social-media-obsessed youth.
At the beginning of the novel, the narrator-protagonist Krantik is recovering from a failed relationship brought to an abrupt end by his fiancee’s attempted suicide.
Krantik returns to Rome where he works as a consultant. As he drifts in and out of a dead-end relationship and stumbles into and out of various misadventures, he constantly shares his post-modern and often bizarre views on the world around him with the reader.
In Krantik’s rants and reveries, he exposes the anxieties and hypocrisies of a rootless generation, the millennial generation. With people exchanging different versions of their lives on different social media (Facebook, Instagram) and
living and experiencing their own lives through multiple fragmented images, he wonders if anyone even has a coherent sense of the self.
The protagonist obsesses about the nature of social media and how celebrities define the narrative of our times. With everyone wanting to be a celebrity for 15 minutes (or in a Twitter-driven world, wanting to be a trend for 2 minutes), “our stories are being defined by increasingly shiny, superficial and mob-fueled obsessions.”
Everyone has the time for 140 characters, but no one has the time for a complex, important story.
Krantik also stumbles upon a cricket cult with members who take life decisions based on match results. This abdication of decisions to random occurrences such as game results represents the dichotomy between free will and destiny, while at the same time exploring the loss of agency felt by ageing European economies reeling from an economic crisis, or by the vulnerable poor in India.
“In both cases, larger socio-economic forces determine individual destinies (forces over which the individual has no control, almost like the result of a sports game taking place half-way across the world) with effort or choices making almost no difference to individual fortunes, ” says the author.
On receiving the award from the Sahitya Akademi, Barua said he was thrilled and honoured to receive such recognition from a historic cultural institution, but also added that a writer has to remain most concerned with the joys and perils of writing and the magical burden of breathing life into a character.
Kaushik Barua had studied economics at St. Stephen’s College and international politics and economics at the London School of Economics.
He has been based in Rome for the last five years working with an international development agency and has worked for over a decade on rural development projects across Asia and Africa.
Barua, whose work has also been translated into Italian, is currently working on his third novel. Publishers HarperCollins has also planned a non-fiction research based book on poverty and development using Barua’s skills to produce insightful work across genres, he said.