SINGAPORE - When writing about any foreign culture, try as much as possible to experience it first hand.
That was the advice given by Indian author Siddharth Dasgupta, who launched his latest book The Sacred Sorrows Of Sparrows: A Collection Of Lives in Singapore yesterday (Jan 6).
The 35-year-old writer said: "There is oftentimes a need to be at the place that you write about. Or at least, I tend to stick to writing about places that I've been to before.
"I think there is a certain honesty and potency to the writing if I can be very specific about it."
That is the case even when he is writing fiction, he added.
Held at Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre, the book launch was part of the writers festival arm of The Asean-Indian Pravasi Bharatiya Divas convention, which celebrates the ties between India and South-east Asian nations.
In his new book, which is a collection of ten short stories, Mr Dasgupta looks at different forms of sadness in various places around the world, from India to Turkey and Iran.
Out of all of the stories, writing the one set in Tokyo is when he had to rely on "accounts from the closest friends and relatives" to get a sense of the place, since he has never been there before.
"I heard all about their stories of how Tokyo is a clash of modernity and staunch tradition, and I put that all in the story," he said, referring to the tale titled One Deep Sleep, which follows a woman suffering from insomnia in Tokyo.
Tying in with the book launch was a panel discussion titled Taking The Leap Of Imagination: Writing Across Cultures, where writers Madhav Mathur, Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, and Sunita Lad Bhamray shared their thoughts on the topic.
The discussion however soon turned into a sharing session of travel anecdotes, from Mr Vadaketh cycling to Malaysian kampungs with his friend, to Mr Mathur bizarrely getting stopped on the streets of Europe multiple times as if he were a local resident.
An attendee of the event, who wished to be known only as Mr Rochan, 37, found the dialogue "enlightening".
He said: "I always travel just for the fun of it, but now I think I am going to start taking notes on my trips. Maybe I could start writing my own short stories set in these places one day."
The Sacred Sorrow Of Sparrows: A Collection Of Lives is available at Books Kinokuniya.