Wing commander Vikrant Dutta is currently flying high, not on his fighter jet but on the success of his first novel Ode to Dignity [Virgin Leaf Books, Rs 245].
Published in June, the 336-page novel is entirely in verse, comprising 1,645 rhymed ballads. It tells the touching story of a young lieutenant who goes to break the news of his Major’s death to his widow. In the shadow of their shared sorrow, the two get talking about their lives, their growing years and their aspirations. The lady tells the lieutenant how she was wooed by her husband and how he was as a father. The young man tells her about his growing up years and his search for the perfect woman.
Vikrant, who studied at the Rashtriya Military School, Belgaum, before joining the National Defence Academy, has also served in the security attachment of former President Pratibha Patil. An avid reader, the 40-year-old feels that it was his military background that inspired him to take up the challenge of writing a novel, that too in verse. A t2 chat.
What inspired an air force officer to write a ballad novel?
I was always interested in writing while growing up. Whenever I wrote something, it always met with positive feedback. And I wanted to do something unique. The idea of writing a story in verse appeared challenging enough and I decided to give it a shot, way back in 2002.
Inspired by Vikram Seth [whose first novel The Golden Gate was in verse], I started rhyming following the ‘a-b-c-d’ meter. Once I was halfway through, I realised the plot was slowly taking shape.
What role did your army background play in nurturing the poet within you?
After six years in the army, I realised I had a lot of free time that I could utilise well. The evenings were mostly spent lazing around. I decided to make the best use of my time by letting my creative ideas flow. The exotic locations I would get posted at worked in my favour too. The discipline and the hunger to accomplish an impossible task — traits instilled in me during my training at the NDA — spurred me on.
The book talks of a bond of compassion between a lieutenant and the widow of a Major. Did these characters have real-life inspirations?
The widow is a combination of my mother and wife. Having lost my father at an early age, I had seen my mother live her life with so much strength and courage. This is one very important aspect of the widow’s character. My wife inspires the loyalty, the romance, and some of the words said by the widow.
What were the challenges you faced while writing?
When you are writing prose, you have all the liberty to play with words. But when you have to construct a plot in verse, you have to restrict yourself to the rhyming meter. You have to be very particular about the words you pick. But once I started, I knew there was no turning back. My publishers refused to publish the book initially, saying, ‘Who would like to read poetry?!’ But after Ode to Dignity received a fair amount of appreciation, they decided to have faith in my work.
Does that encourage you to write further?
Yes. My second book, The Dark Rainbow, got published three weeks back. I’m very happy Ode to Dignity was received so well and generated curiosity in literary circles.