“In a time and age intent on wiping away well-regarded histories and creating new paradigms for living, storytelling becomes our anchor to this earth…”
Poet and Novelist Siddharth Dasgupta’s writing explores stories “from lost hometowns” – drawing inspiration from his own nomadic existence where the concept of home has constantly shifted. Editor of Visual Narratives with The Bombay Literary Magazine, Siddharth particularly has a penchant for visuals that interplay with words to tell a story.
As part of our Storyteller Series, we spoke to Siddharth about the value of storytelling in a world in flux, the art of finding and pursuing stories, and the beautiful “jugalbandi” of words and images.
How do you approach a new story?
Often, a story or a poem comes at you—from the depths of a city; from the jazz strains of a café; from the echoes of a faraway nostalgia… from the pull of desire. Then it becomes a case of not quite approaching, but accepting.
I try and dive into life—conversations, episodes, experiences. That is usually the provenance of a new story. The craft of it is part discipline, part allowing yourself to be surprised. And while the story needs a framework, everything goes back to that old dictat of one line following the next. One page following the next. Nothing scientific or muddled; just the act of keeping at it.
What impact does storytelling have in today’s day and age
Stories, the telling of them, are our connection to time, age, a sense of community, perhaps even humanity, and that vague continent known as imagination. That’s how it has always tended to play out—the epics, folktales, the classics, postmodern literature, tweets, memes, what have you. In a time and age intent on wiping away well-regarded histories and creating new paradigms for living, storytelling also becomes our anchor to this earth—holding on, resonance... Frequently, remembrance.
What meaning do “lost hometowns” hold in your storytelling? What excites you about exploring such narratives?
It’s a nod towards the crux of our nomadic existence. My father is a Bengali who has almost no connection with Calcutta, having grown up in the northern heartlands of Banaras, Nainital, Lucknow, Allahabad, and across the greater north. My mother’s story is as compelling—bearing both Telugu and some Tamil roots, but due to the strange, beautiful ways of migration, movement, and why people tend to choose what they choose, having been born and raised in the Andaman Islands. And then there’s me, born in Poona, moving all over the place, and carrying “home” as an imaginary emblem.
“Travel shows you the unique fingerprints of cities, the manner in which they exist, the ways in which a city’s topography and physical undulations can be such ripe grounds for characters and fables and poetry.”
What’s a hometown then if not lost, ephemeral, and ever evolving. I like stories and characters that exist in this timeframe, across these continents. It frees them from the yoke of already formed labels.
Tell us about your work as the editor of visual narratives at The Bombay Literary Magazine.
I work with a stellar team of editors and curators. Within Visual Narratives, my job is to seek out and often commission visual essays that know how to tell a story. It could be the crumbling of a relationship. The topography of a chosen forest. The serendipitous meeting of art and photography. I’m stirred by narratives where the writer’s words and photographs carry equal impact, and when there’s a unique eye at play.
There’s much joy in the act of discovery here—new writers, unheralded photographers, together with work from some of the finest storytellers in this country and beyond. Within Visual Narratives, there’s a special Spoken Word City series, which examines the topography and heartbeat of specific cities. In time, I shall be introducing more of these strands.
Any tips to weave together visual narratives and words?
Pay attention to cadence—the shape and tone of words, the rhythm and fluidity of the photograph. There needs to be a vivid jugalbandi at play here. Also, your words—be it the introduction or if you’re choosing to go with captions—shouldn’t say exactly what the photographs are already saying. They should fill in the blanks at times; at times, they should serve as nothing but suggestion, allowing the reader to explore the narrative.
With the photography, I tend to favour photographers with a different eye, who look at everyday things from unusual perspectives. And I’m especially drawn towards photographers who choose infrequent subjects—framed with colour, contrast, and light, sure, but created foremost with a sense of empathy.
“Stories, the telling of them, are our connection to time, age, a sense of community, perhaps even humanity, and that vague continent known as imagination.”
How have travel and community interactions shaped your storytelling?
Each city has a different story to tell. I know that’s not the modern wisdom, where the world has gotten much smaller and so on. But travel shows you the unique fingerprints of cities, the manner in which they exist, the ways in which a city’s topography and physical undulations can be such ripe grounds for characters and fables and poetry.
Community, which to me is the shared camaraderie of artists, the unrehearsed bond between strangers, the soulful togetherness of humans getting on with the act of life—is the very crux of storytelling. This is where stories are born, characters are shaped. This is where you’re shown a different side of the world, or yourself.
And if you travel with kindness, curiosity, and empathy packed into your bags, somehow, your stories tend to stumble upon larger truths.
A novelist and poet, Siddharth Dasgupta writes fiction from lost hometowns. Currently the Editor of Visual Narratives with The Bombay Literary Magazine, Siddharth recently published his fifth book, All These Streets We’ve Known By Heart – which was shortlisted for the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2023. His articles have been published in notable publications such as Travel + Leisure, National Geographic Traveller, The Buzz, and Harper's Bazaar, amongst others.
Photos by Siddharth Dasgupta
Interview and Title Design by Akanksha Seth
Produced by The Impact Society