Sunday, September 29, 2013

Why I Wrote "Never Mind Yaar"

'Yaar' - colloquial Indian for 'friend'.
When the kids were four and one, I gave up my job, happily, I might add, to look after them. We were in a new country. Before I knew it, the kids were off to school and kindergarten. 

That is when I had time on my hands and that is when I first started writing. It was 1992. I wrote every day. Time flew. Before I knew it, it was time to stop and get some housework done before picking up the kids. I wrote about my childhood and teens – stories where nothing untoward happened except, they brought smiles to my face. To remember the things my siblings and I used to get up to was therapeutic as I missed those days. After reading what I'd written, my husband suggested I write to get published. I was flattered. 

I started researching writing to publish. In those days PCs were just beginning to make an appearance and here, in NZ, we had excellent (and free) libraries. I kept dreaming of plots and characters, but it was all nebulous in my mind. From being bored and having time on my hands I was on a constant adrenaline fix.

I chanced upon a book by William Pfaff - “The Wrath of Nations”. One thing he said stuck with me. He said people of different nationalities instinctively feel proud of their own cultures. There's no reason or logic to it. They just do.

I made the connection. After the Bombay riots of the seventies I'd wondered why secularism, or a different way of doing things, was such a threat for some. To my mind the riots had always seemed illogical. To witness the blind hate against people of different communities for no apparent reason was scary. These were the very people who we'd dealt with everyday, perhaps even joked with, on occasion. I did not know at the time but the riots affected me badly. I felt disturbed and uneasy in the once familiar and fun neighbourhood I'd spent my childhood in. 

It might seem contrary but having understood at last, (after reading The Wrath of Nations), why perfectly decent people become hardened towards other communities, I felt strangely at peace. I remember sleeping well that night. 

The riots I'd witnessed had to be part of the book I was planning. 

Several years later and picking up vibes from international news, I noticed, whenever they spoke of the Indians (to my mind, Indians like me), it was always the “huge, burgeoning” Indian middle class. I didn’t like that term. It made me feel like ordinary Indians were being lumped together as one huge seething and crawling mass of humanity. We weren’t individuals. 

Besides, in those days, so many Indian authors wrote about Indians on the edge of society, extreme poverty, degradation, male chauvinism, rampant corruption, bribery, superstition, religious extremism and courage in the face of all the above, that I was determined not to.

I felt the world wasn't seeing India in all her true colours. It was the nineties. Not many had written about, to my mind, ordinary Indians. I would dare to be different.

I’d write about the ordinary, mainstream, middle-class Indians.

The plot began taking shape. I also wanted characters who were idealistic and not jaded by experience. Breezy youngsters, amusing, out to make a life for themselves – that’s who I planned to write about. Normal, ordinary kids who weren’t living at the edge of society but who came from secure homes. 

I’d write about the carefree and lighthearted years of college, friendship and young love.

I completed my novel in 1993. I loved my manuscript. In 1997, we moved overseas for a three-year stint and just for safety, I printed out a hard copy of the manuscript as it was then, and had it attested by a JP in NZ. 

The book does have stories from my childhood, but not my college or university days. [I grew up with Grimms Fairy Tales as well as Indian folklore, like Babhuti, The Barber, Discovers The King Has Only One Ear It is a delightful tale - Rajasthani folklore. 

I wanted it in the book.

The characters and plot are pure invention. Today, almost twenty years later, it is published in India. Why it took so long is another story. Part of it was the fact that, in those days, Indian publishing (and reviews by Indians) hadn't really taken off. Authors depended on westerners (with a western outlook) for such services. (Unbelievable now, when it is such a huge industry in India) 

One thing I should make clear is that I had no idea when I wrote it, that some events in the book would actually come to pass. Fact, sadly, followed fiction. Before the book was published in India in 2013, for example, Indians had already lived through the formation of a new political party that gave many Indians hope. On the other hand, we had witnessed a horrendous rape. (both in 2012). I immediately realised, if I had the book published, my ideas wouldn't seem original. It didn't matter that I had a hard copy of the manuscript attested by a JP in 1997. Since there was more to the book than those two instances mirrored in real life, and since I discovered in 2013 that publishing was now a thriving industry in India, I decided to go ahead and get it published anyway.

My feelings now: The “never mind yaar” attitude is changing. 

  • I don’t know whether youngsters would accept substandard fare from the college canteen, as most of the college students did at Gyan Shakti until Bhagu (the main protagonist) was beaten up. 
  • I don’t know whether ordinary Indians would accept a building come up, slap bang in their faces – a building that flouts every regulation about the minimum distance between buildings, as Louella’s family did in the book. 
  • I don’t know if a time will come when rape victims and their families will be able to trust the police and the justice system; if they will report the rapists, or continue trusting no one, either taking matters into their own hands and meting out their version of justice, or preferring to quash the incident and let the perpetrators off scot free.

All I know is, we are beginning to understand once more what we knew during India’s struggle for independence - there is immense strength and safety in unity. A billion lone individuals aren’t as effective as a billion-strong force.

From the book: 

Dreams That Blunt Our Humanity.

Excerpts (Chapter 1 and 2. And the chapter on Mumbai's Psyche)

A Reading from the book: The story is old Rajasthani folklore - Bhabuti Naaie, Bhabuti the Barber  discovers the king has only one ear.

Shalini, the main protagonist, goes back to her childhood home and comes upon her Daadi telling a story to her younger cousins. The story is old Rajasthani folklore - Bhabuti Naaie, Bhabuti the Barber  discovers the king has only one ear.

Writing is addictive. I am completely absorbed. Love it, love it, love it!

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