Kaushik Barua picks the Tibetan armed resistance movement for his debut novel “Wind Horse”. The Rome-based author says his curiosity about what makes people heroic led him on to the trail
A lot of people visit McLeod Ganj in upper Dharamshala, the abode of the Tibetan spiritual leader The Dalai Lama. Popular in the holiday circuit, many are drawn to this Himalayan town — a window to the long-exiled Tibetan community, more than once. Kaushik Barua, while studying at New Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College some summers ago, too visited it a couple of times. Unlike many, it gave him the nub for his debut novel.
Wind Horse, just published by Harper Collins India, is a fictionalised account of the Tibetan armed resistance movement against the Chinese. A perceptive raconteur Barua — now employed with the United Nations in Rome — situates the narrative that chases a significant span of modern Tibetan history mainly through two protagonists — Lhasang Tsering and Norbu. One is forced to flee the warmth of his homeland to India, and the other is an expatriate living in India, never been to Tibet. Creating in the course a complex, multi-layered hessian that also allows each to view home from opposite points — within to outside and vice versa — even when they are twined together in search for a common end.
In New Delhi to launch Wind Horse today at an ideal venue — Majnu Ka Tila, Barua says two things have led him to the story — a chance meeting with Lhasang Tsering, and his “obsessive sense of curiosity.”
“I stumbled upon the story of the resistance movement at a bookstore in McLeod Ganj. Tsering was its manager. I asked him for a recommendation, he suggested me In Exile from The Land of Snows by John Avedon. During my next trip, I thanked him for it, got talking and found that he was a member of the movement. It set me thinking. I was inspired by the idea of what makes people heroic, what makes them rise above their circumstances to work for a nation,” says Barua.
He recalls getting “obsessed about it.” Meeting people raised in Tibet who had to flee their homeland. Also those born in India but fighting for the cause. “I was inspired by the older stories of struggle but also by the young activists, who in spite of being born in India, have a strong sense of commitment to the cause. I wonder whether I have that level of courage, that willingness to sacrifice for a cause,” he says.
This meeting of people — “those who really felt the pain of leaving their homeland”, and “understanding the cause” piloted the 32-year-old to something he strongly felt from within. “I felt I really empathise with their cause, I felt they have been wronged, have been neglected by the international community. What touched me was Tsering and countless other people fighting for freedom which many of us take for granted,” he states. This pushed him to write the novel, not because his “voice is important for the world community but because it is important” for him
For a debut author, it certainly is an ample canvas. Barua agrees, “The choice of the subject was more intuitive, more emotional. If I would have tried to rationalise it, I would not have been able to write it.”
To understand the process of creating his characters, he refers to the journey between his first and second drafts. “In the second draft, I sliced out a significant part of background history that I trawled from the Internet, libraries, books, etc. Simply because I wanted to tell a story through people.”
So a fictionalised version of Tsering was fleshed out. Norbu was born. So did a monk who abandoned non-violence to take up the gun. Also came on board a former serf scarred by the past. A trader who joins the movement for profit but ends up leading it. Barua reasons, “Behind diving into a mass movement for freedom, you often find people have personal objectives.” He also “wanted to break the stereotype that Tibetan people are peaceful. They are like any other people.”
Next on Barua’s line of work is a black comedy set in Rome and a non-fiction on the dynamics of poverty. “After this heavy book, I am writing this light and funny novel. I haven’t started writing the other book but being in the development sector for some years now, I am keen to travel though States, look at poor families, understand from them why they are so without being academic,” signs off the author trained in political economy at London School of Economics.
(“Wind Horse” is set to launch at Majnu Ka Tila, New Delhi, this Saturday and at Dharamshala on December 12.)