Culture

Why Shubhangi Swarup’s debut fiction novel should be your next read

It's a journey through the physical and metaphysical

"I have been an educationist, a journalist and also worked in virtual reality, and I’ve realised that in every professional space, one is often compelled to compromise one’s voice to some extent,” says Mumbai-based author Shubhangi Swarup. “Perhaps that’s why I was sure I would fight to be true to my voice while writing this book.” Swarup, 36, has reasons to be so resolute about the telling of the four novellas that come together to form her debut novel, Latitudes Of Longing (HarperCollins; on stands now)—it is a labour of passionate, relentless love. In the seven years she took to write it, she travelled to distant places that sit on tectonic fault lines, such as the Andamans, Myanmar, Nepal and Ladakh, to understand the different topographies in which her creations come to grips with their victories and frailties.

latitudes of longing cover

And that’s the thing: the places inhabited by her characters are not just backdrops that showcase their trajectories, but are forces that seethe with wounds, just like the people who roam their breadth. At the core of all four tales are the tectonic fault lines, a metaphor for the emotional fissures that exist within every human being: the ones that ravage us and yet make room for resurrection. The people that crisscross the pages are just as intriguing, caught in moments from the past and the future: a scientist who studies trees; a clairvoyant who talks to them; a man who travels all over the Raj thinking up names for nameless places; a mother holding on to hope as she battles for the release of her revolutionary son; a superstitious dictator; a lonely yeti; a shape-shifting turtle; and, above all, the ghost of an evaporated ocean. Swarup spent months delving into the finer points of geology, natural history and earth sciences to lend that rich texture to her book. “People ask me why I omitted the political tensions that govern these places, and I tell them it is delusional to believe that the politics of our land drive our lives. It has been 71 years since partition, and more than a billion years to our continents. Guess which one has had a larger say in our stories?”

Featured photograph: Nikhil Hemrajani

Also add Gaysi Family's new zine to your reading list

Pick up Gaysi Family’s new illustrated zine, For The Love Of God, a collection of 15-plus tales that draw attention to the oft-ignored alternative queerdom of Indian mythology. The more you know... 

Buy: Gaysifamily.com