Fractured reality: Shubhangi Swarup's debut fiction is on love, loss and nature

Updated: Oct 14, 2018, 08:23 IST | Jane Borges

Shubhangi Swarup's powerful debut fiction, Latitudes of Longing, conjures places set on tectonic fault lines

Fractured reality: Shubhangi Swarup's debut fiction is on love, loss and nature

One would describe seven years as a very long time to pen a single book. For 36-year-old author Shubhangi Swarup, whose debut novel, Latitudes of Longing (HarperCollins India), was in the making during all that time, the quest wasn't as much to create a masterpiece, as it was to tell the story of lands with "geological fault lines," truthfully.

Having made it to the prestigious JCB Prize Shortlist 2018 — the only debutant author on the list — the Mumbai-based writer paints a riveting account of love, loss and most importantly, nature, in her fiction. "It's unconventional," Swarup, a print journalist and filmmaker, says of her book. "I tried to break away from the norm, but I am not quite sure how the readers will receive it," she adds nervously, when we meet at her Bandra residence.

Thematically, the stories in this novel are based on a tectonic fault line — a fracture in the ground that occurs when the Earth's tectonic plates shift — and that, as Swarup describes, is the "narrative force". "I traced the fault line through research, and found the areas that were tectonically active," says Swarup, of how she began working on the book. After pruning her list, she chose Andamans, Myanmar, Nepal and Ladakh; it's in these worlds that her characters come alive. From a scientist who studies trees to his clairvoyant wife who talks to them, a yeti who seeks human company, a shape-shifting turtle, and a ghost of a vanished ocean, her characters negotiate time and space, in this rather surreal novel, which is full with magic realism.

But for Swarup, who has spent months in these places, reading, researching and witnessing first-hand the lives of its people, this is reality. "Human imagination is very limited. Even when the tectonic theory came into place, it saw a lot of resistance — people couldn't believe that land could move. The assumption is that
land and sea are permanent," she says. Nature isn't bound by these rules. "All the places [mentioned in the novel] sit on the same fault lines, but are so starkly different. Andamans, for instance, has these indigo blue seas, salt-water crocodiles and is so noisy, with its birds, waves and insects. Whereas in Ladakh, a high altitude snow desert, you will experience complete silence. A hollow, empty silence." To see all this, and know they are connected, helped her weave similar connections between her characters.

Swarup, whose inspiration for her writing comes from her mother, a poet, and father, from whom she has learned how to exercise economy in words, is also, a traveller. "Whenever I travel to a different landscape, the experience is mind-boggling. Have you ever seen a butterfly actually metamorphose," she asks, "Because I have been deprived of it in the city, the encounter invites awe and wonder." Swarup drives the point home at several instances in the book, through her seamless prose. When you read of how "the sound of a thousand caterpillars eating and defecating at the same time, tiny drops of excrement falling on the leaves below" is mistaken for gentle rain, another universe opens up to you. Rain will no longer conjure the idea of water droplets alone.

WHAT: Actor Jim Sarbh in conversation with the author
WHEN: October 31, 6.30 PM
WHERE: CSMVS, Kala Ghoda

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