vikrant dutta
author vikrant dutta

In a time when the free verse grants unusual democracy to the art of verses, here is an author who revives the classical form of poetry, the ballad, in his novel, Ode to Dignity.

Vikrant Dutta is the author of two recently published novels, Ode to Dignity, a novel written in the form of ballads and The Dark Rainbow, a story of love and longing in Mumbai.

He talks about his life, books and influences to Jose Varghese

Q. What prompted you to write Ode to Dignity?

A: I had spent six years in the Air force and realised that work was pretty routine. Then I had also been reading books. I began asking myself if I could do something worthwhile and could try writing a book. I then realised that doing a book would be wonderful and yet to try something which was really challenging. Something that could really put me to task and have a high difficulty factor. So it was about that moment when I just plunged into it.


Q. How tough was it to experiment with rhyming ballads? Was the process any different from how you conceive a regular novel and go about it?

A: I could do this abcb rhyme also called the ballad metre easily. It came to me fast. And yet to construct the entire novel in this form was a tough task. As the story had to flow and all the aspects had to be depicted through rhyme. Since this was the first book I had worked on, and had not tried fiction, I knew this would be tough and later when I attempted fiction, I figured out it was. And yes I had put the odds before me the very moment I had begun this work.


Q. How could you hold on to the task of writing those 1645 ballads? One has to assume that you had not just a sense of rhyme but a passion for poetic form in general. Why did you choose to be a novelist, instead of trying to get established as a poet?

A: I had a set target of 2000 ballads. Such a target was essential to be able to take it to a novel form. And it was tough as after ten ballads one gets tired and then the mind doesn’t really throw up any rhymes or ideas. So I took it slowly. But I was regular. I have enjoyed poetry during my growing up years and most of that poetry was in rhyme. So I was more drawn to rhyme. It would be nice to be a poet too and yet I wished to have more variation in my writing. I felt that by doing an entire novel in rhymed ballads I would find more fulfilment and satisfaction. Also such works have not been attempted much before, so I wanted this challenge and to see my own abilities. I think every writer wants to do novels too at sometime. So I have chosen novel writing.

Q. Did your time in the air force help you shape yourself as a writer? If it did, is it more reflected on your themes or your craft?

A: Yes the time in the Air force and that also includes my training in the National Defence Academy offered a sense of discipline and a motivation to take up a task and accomplish it. It was also to gun for the impossible. Also I got time after work and during the weekends where I could read a lot which helped a great deal. But most importantly, it was to challenge oneself and then work to prove it. The theme in Ode to Dignity is definitely about an army man and yet that’s just the character, his feelings are all human and it is more of a book about human emotions and has less to do with army life. Even my fiction novel The Dark Rainbow is about youngsters in Mumbai and is far removed from anything about defence life. Maybe in future I would love to write about the life there, and yet for now I would like to explore the lives of the middle class Indians.

Q. What is The Dark Rainbow about?

A: The Dark Rainbow is a book about youngsters finding their lives in Mumbai. It also has two central characters who are disillusioned with the men in their lives and both women fall into a relationship. It shows the slow evolvement of that emotion in them. Also it is about a married woman trying to find love again and a young man who seeks his future across the seas. They are our everyday characters who want a happier and fulfilling life.


Q. Are you confused regarding which book to promote now, or do you feel each book will have its niche readership?

A: It is a happy and yet a challenging feeling when two books in different genres and format come back to back. And as a writer one hopes they both find their mark and readers. But then both are as different as chalk and cheese. Ode to Dignity is a romantic tale with ballads and The Dark Rainbow is a present day story in fiction. I feel good writing in time will get its due and will reach its audience. I have got very positive feedback for both the books. What I’ve been told by all the readers who have offered their feedback on The Dark Rainbow is that it is very racy. And I feel happy about it.

Q. How well could you manage your day job and the writerly life?

A: I used to take out an hour daily in the evenings or before dinner and write when working on a novel. The rest of the time was spent reading. I don’t write daily. Only when I do a novel, do I write on a daily basis. Or else I just read. And I never carry office tension home. And in a manner writing was a wonderful escape during such days when my mind was niggling at some issue at my workplace. So then writing helped me forget it. It was therapeutic.
Q. Which among your books took more time to write?

A: Time wise, both took the same time. Around ten months. But I was more regular in Ode to Dignity. During The Dark Rainbow, I took week long breaks too. But Ode to Dignity was tough on a daily basis. I had to use my mind. The Dark Rainbow was a smooth ride.

Q. Do you have any favourite author?

A: I have many favourite authors. Ones who have impacted my writing are Ayn Rand and Victor Hugo. To an extent Salman Rushdie. When I read them, I feel like writing. Writers whom I enjoy reading are Jhumpa Lahiri, Khaled Hosseini, Amitava Ghosh.

 Q. Do you allow yourself to be influenced by other writers, or try hard to to stay consciously away from any sort of influence?

A: The influence will always be there and it’s not about what they write but I marvel and the language and the way the thoughts engage. So that stimulates the mind. And especially when I read Ayn Rand and Victor Hugo, they just make me pick the pen and write. I find them very engaging and absorbing. Also they tend to make the story flow beautifully. The rest of the books, till now I have read to enjoy myself. To be entertained as a reader. And yet maybe subconsciously a good book does make me admire the writer who has been able to pen such thoughts and style.
Q. What is your advice to budding writers?

A: It is essential to read a lot. And also work very hard. There are no shortcuts. And if their work is good, it will find it place and get its due. Every writer is unique in his or her own way.