Time is a Fire is a diasporic mystery centred on a young Sikh woman who leaves India after her parents are murdered during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. The Wages of Life is a murder mystery set against the backdrop of the Hindu nationalist movement. The Assassinations, on the other hand, is the story of two families-one Hindu and the other Sikh-and how their lives are distorted by the events of 1984. Its central theme is how politics can affect relations between communities that have no history of conflict and hatred. That is mirrored in how the relations between the two families go for a toss because of what happens at the time.
There are days where I dont write a word. If you are working on a long project like a novel, however, you need to write regularly since it is very hard to get into the flow of it if you leave it for some time. So when I am working on a novel, I try to get in 2000-2500 words in a week. The short stuff is easier to return to after taking a break. I know people whose entire reason for living is writing. I dont think that is the way to go. You should make writing a part of your life NOT your life. There is much more to life than being cooped up in a room in front of a word processor.
What pained one most was the fact that everyone knew the guilty, yet nothing was done. This national failure was to pave the way for Ayodhya 1992 and Gujarat 2002. I was 16 and in Class 10, the son of an Army officer living in Defence Colony, and a Hindu by birth. Yet, my belief that we were citizens of a secular republic was shattered for all times.
These are questions that I often ask myself. I am not a Sikh. No one I knew was ever targeted in those riots. The mob came nowhere near my home in Delhi. The enduring memory I have of those three days of rioting is of Doordarshan broadcasting images of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s body lying in state while a host of dignitaries shuffled past, paying their respects. It was only later that I became aware of how unreal those images of dignified mourning were in a Delhi steeped in mayhem.
Yet it is in the midst of that madness that I have found a lot of creative inspiration. Those riots represent a rite of passage for me. You never forget the moment wherein you lose your innocence. Those riots made me aware of how misplaced my adolescent notions of a secular India were; how tenuous the fabric binding Indian society is; how easily it can be ripped apart by the hatred lurking in its midst… It is through them that I got my first inkling of how much more resilient than love our various hatreds are. Since then, I have not been surprised, leave alone shocked, when any part of India has chosen to go berserk in the name of religion, caste or some other aspect of cultural identity.
I am often accused by people of trying to re-ignite passions or make people relive painful memories by writing about 1984. My response to this is – that a culture that does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it. The Jewish holocaust of the 1940s will never be repeated because the world has not been allowed to forget it. And the whole endeavour has been so successful that even the young, educated Indian of today knows more about what happened in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Krakow than what happened in Delhi in 1984.
My hope would be that by re-living a painful passage of our recent history through books, which show what can happen when tolerance and communal amity go for a toss, people, especially young people, will realise how important the ideas of tolerance and communal amity are to maintain a heterogeneous society like ours.
About the author:
A PhD in creative and critical writing from the University of East Anglia in the UK, Vikram Kapur has taught journalism and creative writing in the US and the UK. He has published two novels and several short stories. For his writing, he has received a Vermont Studio Center Fellowship, a Wesleyan scholarship and a Squaw Valley Community of Writers scholarship.