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Swerving to Solitude – Keki Daruwala

Swerving to Solitude – Keki Daruwala

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Swerving to Solitude – Keki Daruwala

Akshyata Ray



Swerving to Solitude is a piece of historical fiction, or, as you’ve said in an interview with First Post, ‘you use history as a backdrop’. How, or why did you choose the time period of the Emergency?

The novel is not strictly historical fiction. Two lives, of Seema and her mother Shail’s are underpinned to a political backdrop. Shail’s father moves to Canada, then after Komagata Maru, to Mexico, where Shail, who is good at Spanish, becomes M.N.Roy’s Secretary. The daughter confronts the Emergency. This confrontation can also be taken as an allegory of what is happening today, but such things are never made explicit. The novel says what it says, through the medium of its own craft, not through political speeches.


The narrator and protagonist of the novel, Seema, highly condemns the emergency imposed by Mrs. Indira Gandhi. You yourself returned your Sahitya Akademi Award. What are your views on resistance as a form of social change in a dire political climate?

Resistance is a part of democracy and the kind of polity we live in, especially if institutions designed to foster the arts  (like Academies) do not stand up for murdered artists. It showed sheer cowardice. Politics will win, but the backbone of resistance  must remain strong.


In the chapter ‘Editorial Perils’, you narrate a scene wherein Shweta is in dire straits because she writes about a scandal with a Dera chief. Can you tell us about laws related to freedom of speech during the time of the Emergency? 

During the Emergency, there was hardly any law. The justices of the Supreme Court had all caved in, except one, Justice Khanna. In the novel, you need to take this episode in a lighter vein. I thought the stupidities of our politics are highlighted here.


You talk about M.N. Roy, founder of the Communist Party of India, who wanted to open a new form of ideology at the cusp of liberalism and communism. Can you tell our readers more about this ideology and its relevance in contemporary times?

 I don’t wish to talk about this. The journal has said sufficiently on him.

He started out as an activist, tried bringing a German ship laden with bombs into Bengal, turned towards communism, thinking it was utopia. Argued with Lenin, who respected him. Was sent to China with Borodin where Chang Ki Shek betrayed him, then turned from away communism.


Like you’ve said, M.N. Roy is up there with Nehru and Bose, yet many today may never have heard of him. Writing is one way, but what other forms would you suggest to keep histories from disappearing?

 You can keep history alive if you want to. But the  establishment has done away with entire medieval history—Khiljis, Tuglaks, Lodhis—meaning the entire  period when Muslims ruled Delhi. Once both history and culture was in the hands of one person, if you remember, the guy who  was said to be behind the banning of Doniger’s book on Hinduism. He was a favourite with the then HRD minister Mrs. Smriti Zubin Irani.


The relationship between Shweta and her husband suffers because they are of different ideologies. What solutions or suggestions do you have for the youth today, at opposite ends of the spectrum, unable to even have a dialogue?

I don’t have any suggestions for youth in general. For male youth, they need to learn how to face rejection without getting violent.


You write as a female narrator. What has that journey been like, writing with a feminine voice? How did you, or what made you decide to write as Seema in Swerving to Solitude?

It has been a good journey. I wrote three stories with women as narrators, and then embarked upon the novel. But the novel is about a mother and daughter and the different times they live in. History is a backdrop.

About the Interviewee:

Keki N. Daruwalla is one of India’s foremost poets and writers. His ten volumes of poetry include Under Orion, The Keeper of the Dead (winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award, 1984), Landscapes (winner of the Commonwealth Poetry Award, Asia, 1987), Night River and The Map-maker. His first novel, For Pepper and Christ, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Fiction Prize in 2010. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2014. Most recently, he was honoured with the Poet Laureate award at the Tata Literature Live! Mumbai Litfest, 2017. His work has been translated into Spanish, Swedish, Magyar, German and Russian.