22 Feb Harp – A Brief Idea about the Book
- What made you turn to writing? What is the inspiration and purpose of the book?
We all have stories to tell.
I always wanted to write. “Catch your dreams before they slip away,’ sang The Rolling Stones.
I wanted to describe the hope and idealism of the 60’s that I and many others thought would never end, the coming of age and growing up in the late 60’s. How the themes conveyed were universal and how music interspersed with everyday life in those times.
I wanted to write about the universality of human emotions and feelings.
To tell a tale about how love and obligation compartmentalise people, making them choose between love and duty, between the head and the heart, between one’s social contract and what one wants. The individual choices one has to make with profound consequences.
To portray a deeply felt love story, as different as any personal experience can be.
Inspiration came from the love and longing I had experienced as well as the universality of these deep feelings, the intensity of the pain and ache, the bliss and completeness of it, the sense of fulfilment. The circumstances that pull people as under, the effort to reconcile conflicting goals inter-se as well as within one self.
Inspiration also came from certain characters that I had the pleasure to encounter, whose personalities and traits got mixed up, as did their stories. Many things were invented, imagined both in the narrative and in the personae of the characters, as it should be in fiction.
- Ashok reflects you in many ways, working in dairy, St. Stephen’s, going abroad for studies, knowledge of scriptures etc. How much this book is biographical and how much imagination?
It draws broadly on my travels through Europe as a young man and the training I received in factories there. Similarly, it draws a little bit on the women I encountered and the relationships I had. Also somewhat on the struggle to please my parents.
One always draws on one’s experiences. The rest was imagination. The characters acquired more and more life as I wrote.
The stories come partly from many interesting people one encounters in life’s journey. Their personalities and traits get mixed up, as do their stories. Many things are invented, imagined both in the narrative and in the personae of the characters, as it should be in fiction.
- Ashok represents a changing generation of Indians that those who believe in experimenting while being tradition bound? How do you see it.
I think this changing generation would honour tradition especially our philosophy and spirituality where it made sense and gave deeper meaning to Life’s eternal questions. They would experiment and embrace Modernity in the areas of technology, freedom of thought and culture. An eclectic best from the West and the East instead of as often happens unfortunately the worst from both places.
- How will you describe this book? What made you decide on the title Harp and what is its significance?
This novel is a love story deeply felt.
It is about a young man’s encounters.
How a young girl is torn between her professions – her Music, her deeply held values– especially her paradigm of Europe and her feelings.
About another girl and how she alters the equation about other triangles. It gives glimpses of the Kafkaesque functioning of the bureaucracy and to a lesser extent the criminal ways of politicians.
The book is about the power of love, the intensity of the pain and ache, the bliss and totality of it; the sense of fulfilment. The circumstances that pull people asunder, the effort to reconcile conflicting goals inter-se as well as within one self.
One of the main protagonists plays the Harp. Her commitment to it partly drives the narrative, hence the choice of name.
- The story talks about the multiple choices life offers and what we take depending on one’s inner self. Please comment.
As Frank Sinatra – ol’ Blue Eyes- says – you have to do it your way. You have to do it the way which seems best to you. Therein lays Individualism. These answers come from within. Its instinct + reason. Sometimes there is a trade-off but you still have to choose. These choices are often not easy but you still have to decide. The roads taken shape your life.
- Through Ashok you describe on several facets of life – its philosophy, practical aspects, the experiences of growing up and coming on your own. Please elaborate.
Yes it’s a coming of age novel and what one experiences through those critical and formative times. The realisation that ultimately you are on your own, what the future holds for you as it stretches out before you.
You have to solve existential questions as well as grapple with practical issues which must be tackled
- Why did you choose one female protagonist as a Polish and the other as Indian? Was to show our attitude towards multicultural approach – Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or was it pit Indian culture versus the West?
To show our Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam approach. That ultimately, in the final analysis, our common humanity counts.
- Can love transcend borders and culture and can marriage sustain it? What are your views?
Love can transcend borders and cultures. In the final analysis its our humanity – us as people, as individuals that counts. The 60s and 70 s were all about that as these barriers were being broken. Marriage will sustain it further. With all its faults no better institution has been found as yet.
- How will you describe Ashok’s character? He comes across a person averse to make a commitment like in case of Lauren and Aparna. Your views?
He is not averse to making commitments. he is torn between his sense of duty towards parents and work in India and his passionate love for Lauren which would force him to build a life elsewhere .
When he is forced to leave Poland and Lauren, Aparna comes into his life after some time and he again experiences romantic feelings. But there are different problems here. In the meantime Lauren again unexpectedly enters the picture, playing havoc with his emotions
- Set in 60s and 70s, the book describes and comments on the economic and political conditions then. Elaborate on this.
In the 60s and 70 s there were cultural, student and sexual revolutions the world over. There were phenomenal changes in values and ways of thinking. This affected India too deeply. It, with its deep spirituality, was a mecca for many of the Western young.
Yet India was stuck in the Licence Quota Permit Raj. The red tape and bureaucracy was tremendous. Business was perversely thought to be bad by the Government and obstacles put in its way. It was one of the hardest places to do Business as my Harvard Professor later commented.
The political atmosphere became populist. Instead lifting our people up and genuinely removing poverty through unleashing the economic potential of this sleeping giant and the genius and resourcefulness of our people, the effort became one of bringing down the few successful. The crab mentality.
- The novel hardly talks about Ashok’s family. Why was it so?
In fact the parents Brij and Radhika are central figures and create many of Ashok’s conundrums. Their influence on him is deep.
The lives of his sisters too weave interesting side narratives. The reader would want to know what happens to them. It is left as an open question. Possibly but not necessarily to be dealt with in a different story.
If all the narratives were brought to a close it would become longer , a little like A Suitable Boy.