I was invited this year to participate in the Shanghai International Literary Festival 2012. My session was as follows:
and I examined the theme using the twin prisms of popular and literary fiction through my books, Earning The Laundry Stripes, The Long Walk Home and the thriller The Taj Conspiracy, which I had the pleasure of unveiling at the Lit Fest.
I grew up in a town located on the India-Pakistan border in Punjab. As happens with any area that has seen trauma, the region which saw partition in 1947 and subsequently some of the worst communal rioting in its aftermath, is suffused with loss and stories of loss. Growing up in Ferozepur, memories of loss was my legacy.
In the 1980s I witnessed the Sikh separatist movement and the demand for a separate state, Khalistan.
In MBA school in Calcutta, our annual cultural festival was halted because the Babri Masjid was razed to the ground in nearby UP.
Thereafter I started work in Mumbai which was still simmering after the Hindu-Muslim riots.
It is inevitable that a writer's experiences should impinge upon her writing - the theme of faith and fundamentalism runs as a leitmotif through my work.
India, along with China, is the world's oldest continuous civilization; home to almost all world religions, with the possible exception of Shintoism; through its famed gateway of Punjab, it has seen through the centuries the march of the Greeks, the Scythians, Persians, Afghans, Mongols, Mughals and the British.
All of this makes India what it is: a great ancient pluralistic culture. We are like the Jalfrezi that has marinated over centuries in exotic sauces. Yet, this culture is under the strain of escalating fundamentalism on the subcontinent as its people engage in competitive communalism. How then do we continue to stay robust and resilient as we progress?
All we have to do is to look back, remember our history, and embrace it even as we move forward. In the inimitable words of Iqbal,
Yunan-o-Misr-o-Roma sab mit gaye jahan se,
Ab tak magar hai baki naam-o-nishan hamara.
Kuchh to hai ke hasti mit'ti nahin hamari,
Sadiyon raha hai dushman daur-e-zaman hamara
The civilizations of ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome have perished,
Yet, to this day, endures the culture that is India.
There is something in this soil that helps us survive,
In the face of innumerable enemies through the many millennia.
On that note, The Taj Conspiracy will release in India in April. I expect to be in Des - yay! - for the readings - will share the launch schedule on my blog once the dates are firmed up.