Vikrant Dutta’s Ode to Dignity
Vikrant Dutta’s ballad novel Ode to Dignity is the second such work after Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate. The book reveals the wide sweep of the author’s imagination and profundity of perception. The book is sui generis in its form and content.
“I realised when I felt like doing a novel that such a form was rare and would accrue a higher challenge and difficulty factor compared to prose. And it was an attempt to create something which would be unique.” And his novel Ode to Dignity is sui generis, yes unique of its own kind. He began writing way back in 2002 at the age of 29. This is how he used to spend his free time purposefully. “I wanted to take up writing as a profession” said Vikrant. Nobody has mentored Vikrant Dutta, he was harboring the dream of getting published. As Ekalavya followed the footsteps of Dronacharya, in a similar way he had in his mind Vikram Seth whose The Golden Gate was also written in rhymes. He did not imitate him, but emulated as the book has been an inspiration for him. Ode to Dignity was his way to reach a new destination following a known road. It is a long journey from life in Defence to writing a novel. Life in Defence, in Vikrant’s opinion, however, has been extremely wonderful and fulfilling. It has offered him many wonderful moments to cherish. It has also accorded him the time to read and work on his dream of being a writer. So, being in the Air force has been a boon for him.
The young authors these days cater to the college students and write only those stories that strongly appeal to them. This has led to a rise in reading and more and more people are buying books. These same college readers will later graduate to serious literary fiction. They may find in Vikrant’s book a new vista of imagination where Vikrant with an ease deals with the passionate longing of the heart of a lover whom we hear saying:
‘Honourable and bold, courageous,
Find a woman like you, proud and pretty,
Have built a deep admiration,
A woman so wonderful, so gritty”. (78)
Love is a theme in this story and the beautiful passions are expressed so mysteriously:
“Heavens, felt I’d like her,
Been a short time and I,
for the feeling was strange,
She seemed beautiful,
Why O God why.” (86)
This mastery of versification can be noticed in nearly all the 1645 sections which conclude with the beautiful words paced in a nice rhyme pattern:
“And would live together happily, you’d say,
Would be times when they’d blunder,
Yet they’d be one, for long after,
Vikrant’s all-time favourite romance novel is "Gone with the Wind." Coming to thrillers, rarely read the genre these days, he did the pulp fiction route long back in his late teens and early twenties. He also liked Jeffrey Archer for his raciness; a quality of his own novel. Three books that truly moved and stimulated his need to write were Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and Gone with the Wind. He likes literary fiction because it delves into the human nature. He read a lot of Indian writers. He feels every writer has his own unique style and yet it’s vital to keep it simple.
Ode to Dignity being a ballad novel comes in the genre of narrative poetry. Hence it will be different from fiction. The plot pivots around a romantic story and a process of discovery occurs in the interactions of a Major's widow and a young Lieutenant who share their thoughts and aspirations about life over a period of two days which were marked by a loneliness and memories:
“Memories, Lieutenant, Memories,
They‘d come to me, now and then,
Deep impressions on my mind and heart
Every place a memory, never know when”. (75)
Vikrant takes enough care in the portrayal of the heroism of the Major who died:
“What a man, what a hero
Buried on top, lay a wreath,
Carved out of leaves, wild flowers,
Was lowered into the ground on a sheath.”
Simultaneously, the elegiac ambience is created for us reminding us of Tennyson’s In Memoriam:
“Oh the hero, Oh the hero,
Was gone, yet alive in the hearts,
Was thunder, clouds burst forth,
Skies wept, mud and water weren’t apart.”
Pathos of the mourners reached a sublime height in the restraint of the language and the mellow tone of bereavement.
Vikrant used the Ramayana association as a subtext in the poem and since childhood his cultural self was soaked in the Ramayana myths. He knew it was a rare and difficult format. Then he had also heard of Lord Byron's Don Juan which was in rhymed stanzas. Closer home, Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate which had also been on his mind. So his plan to take the challenge of writing a novel in ballad verse. He was born with a talent for rhyming.
The story of the young Lieutenant who goes for war and fights alongside a Major is a mind blowing one. The Lieutenant recalls the glorious moment of capture:
“The hill was ours, post captured,
Impossible it seemed at once,
Strikes aplenty, this one sharp,
Was this time to sing, dance”.
Despite a well fought victory, the Major succumbs to his injuries. The young Lieutenant goes to the Major’s home to inform his widow. Over two days that he spends at her home they share their thoughts and she enquires about the last moments of her beloved husband and shares how he wooed her and married her and was a wonderful husband and a father to their daughter. The Lieutenant then goes away and yet they both realize that distance has done precious little to what they share and in time they come to each other and belong.
Vikrant’s boyhood days were the first step towards this huge literary creativity. He went to a boarding school at the age of 11. He led a regimented life over there. But his school had wonderful opportunities for co-curricular activities such as all kinds of on-stage competitions, a very active theatre culture and also opportunities to read the news in the assembly and for the juniors to recite poems. He actively took part in all programmes. He used to write good essays and in those times his letters were appreciated by friends and family. This is how the buds of creativity bloomed gradually. The library in the school was well stocked with over 12000 volumes and subscribed to the best of magazines including Time and Newsweek.
Vikrant enjoys Amitava Ghosh's "River of Smoke" and Fatima Bhutto’s Memoir. His first fiction The Dark Rainbow has just been released a week back. It has been published by the prestigious Roli books and has been endorsed by Mann Booker shortlisted writer Indra Sinha. It is a lesbian love story set in Mumbai. One more manuscript is under edit. But that will take time. Vikrant’s success as a writer never conceals his philosophical thoughts with which the Ode to Dignity abounds:
“We search all life, for happiness
Hope we’d find it in different pursuits,
Some take to spiritual paths,
Renounce worldly affairs, fruits”.
These are the sources of dignity in Vikrant’s life – this freedom from wants, desires, name and fame. His commitment to literature is devotion and it will skyrocket him to a dizzy height of achievement in years to come.