He has spent the last couple of years pursuing photography, holding a conversation series in Goa and often being spotted in a shack on Vagator beach “waiting to see how long before the tide moves back in”. Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, who refuses to succumb to the cookie-cutter author mould, confesses that he never thought of himself as a “career writer”.
“I do what the muse insists, which is why I spent the last four years making photographs and being alone… ,” the author of The Lost Flamingoes Of Bombay told dna.
Shanghvi, who moderated a session with producer Ekta Kapoor at the recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), published a poignant letter last year addressed to his two nephews about life and the lessons he has learned. The piece went viral on social media and he was lauded for his honest words on forgiveness, love and the emptiness of material wealth. “It was a gift to my nephews who turned 16 last month. It was also a place for me to pause and see what I could share with them, now that I was old enough to know better. This is what I hope they can come to life: armed with knowledge that showed them how to dance around the cracks you can fall into as a young person. It was all very practical, really, about when to leave the party while you’re still having fun,” he says.
Shanghvi is not a rookie when it comes to writing about emotions. The storylines of The Last Song of Dusk (2004) and The Lost Flamingoes… (2009) were rife with feelings of love, longing and death. In fact, certain themes like homosexuality and bestiality ran across both the books. Coincidence or intentional? “I’m very interested in the ways we transact sexual desire, the nature of longing, and how we grieve – so yes, there’s a certain resonance to these ideas. Have you seen a stone from the river? The same waves wash it over and over again, until it is smooth and true. This is what I hope my work to be ultimately, something that started out raw and wound up washed until it became its most authentic self.”
Talking about the inspiration for his stories, he states, “Almost all of my life has been the distill of experience. You’ve got to thrash your heart out to look at stories; something’s gotta give.”
Nowhere is this more telling than the in the intersecting stories of The Lost Flamingoes…,which are reminiscent of real-life cases like the Jessica Lall murder and the 1993 Bombay riots. An outcome of personal insight? “You cannot live in India and not be furious — at the great inequities, the failures in justice, the gang warfare that passes as politics, the scamster intellectuals. But a work of art must transcend fact, so while the books might reflect some realities, they must truly serve only their characters,” he explains.
Aside from the raw portrayal of emotions, Bombay is the raison d’etre of both his books, but probe deeper, and it’s clear that all love’s lost. Despite having grown up in the city, Shanghvi says that he has no relationship with it and that it means nothing to him anymore. “It’s a failed city, with no conversation, scumbag networkers, and profound lapse of artistic integrity. It sort of flipped character overnight, as if someone turned off a switch, and above all things became boring,” he says.
Blaming the politicians and builders for ruining Bombay, Shanghvi prefers to spend his time in Goa and Italy now. Ask him what’s on the anvil and his reply is modest. “To write more and to love more.”