Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2019. winner in Literature is Rana Dasgupta for literary novel “Solo”.
Lyrical, yet unsentimental, Solo deals with oppression, violence, and personal disintegration with delicate detachment.Solo is two seemingly distinct narratives, but one soloist, fictional and – metafictional, binding them together. His name is Ulrik, he is an everyman Bulgarian and when we meet him in the early 2000s, he is one hundred years old and blind. The first narrative is introspective recounting of Ulrik’s life. As the turbulent century unwinds, ripping his homeland apart, destroying its culture, upending allegiances of its people, we witness Ulrik getting increasingly marked by disillusionment, listlessness and alienation.
Ulrik never became comfortable with his place in the world. His emotions are sublimated, talents stunted, longings restrained.
His wounds are deep and private, yet trivialized in the wake of common tragic fate, thus never properly recognized.
Sequestered by blindness and old age, Ulrik finds a peculiar comfort in a cocoon of his memories and reveries.
In the first part of the novel, the latter are restrained, occasionally blurring the lines, but in the second part, crossing the tenuous borders, they take over.
In the second narrative readers are taken to a surreal journey of self reinvention. The lives of the three young protagonists, set in the post communist era, are variations on themes from Ulrik’s life, but mutated with exponentiality and liberality provided by the very nature of fantasy.
The three characters are the children Ulrik didn’t have, their failures and successes Ulrik’s own antagonies and yearnings. Enigmatic and, at times, unsettling, Solo is a hauntingly beautiful recital about estrangement and the ultimate failure of material existence, its only atonement realized in ability to dream.
A TagorePrize statue, the first prize in the amount of US $10 000, and a certificate for excellent contribution to literature has been awarded to Mr. Dasgupta, which will be delivered to him since he was unable to attend the ceremony. Mr. Dasgupta has expressed his feelings about not being able to attend the event in his profound speech:
“I have retreated into the Swiss mountains to write, which is why, to my enormous regret, I’m unable to be with you all tonight. I have appointed Karthika in my place, since she was the editor of Solo in India, and it bears the trace of her love and care.
Nine years after Solo came out, I am of course delighted and indeed very surprised to see it receiving fresh recognition. My heartfelt thanks to the judges and organisers of the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize for their appreciation of my work and that of the other great writers on this year’s shortlist, and for their efforts to promote a literature for all humanity.
Brought up in England, and living already for several years in India when I began to write Solo, I nevertheless chose to set the novel approximately half-way between those two – in a country to which I had no belonging save that of curiosity and longing. Bulgaria.
When I announced this decision, one of my European editors cancelled my publishing contract. He had not signed a writer with an Indian name, based in Delhi, to write a Balkan novel. But it was precisely this kind of tribalism in contemporary publishing that made it impossible for me to write an Indian novel at that point.
Over the last forty years, the set of technological, financial and industrial processes we refer to as “globalization” has thrown settled ways of life into turmoil. There are very few countries today, which are not assailed by anxieties about the movement of money and people, the loss of landscapes and rituals, and the destruction of everything idyllic and secure. Many countries have chosen for their leaders vengeful, damaged men who, they hope, will massacre the female furies. Of course, such a primitive response only unleashes further terrors of its own.
My feeling is this: we do not yet have a culture for this globalization of ours. We have the technological and financial systems, yes – but we do not have the poetry and philosophy by which we learn how to inhabit them. This is the project of which Solo is a part, and possibly the other books before us tonight. It is a project which requires us to both expand and contract our ideas of what ties us to this planet. All the world, all peoples, all space and time – it all belongs to each one of us, in a sense, and our ancestry is universal. In another sense – and this is equally true – none of it belongs to us; we are all orphans.
The organisers of the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize offer us an important insight: this global age has very much to learn from that other global age, which was Tagore’s, and which was in many ways more morally and politically acute than ours. We must retrieve this lost knowledge: but we must also make of it something new, something strange, something history has never seen before.
With my thanks.