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Water douses the fire, but soap remains

Anand Kurian has just penned his first novel, "The Peddler of Soaps" that is being consecutively released across India. In conversation with the author, ANJANA RAJAN finds the serial launches are powered by earnest solicitude for the motherland... .

A brave new word... Anand Kurian's first novel is claimed to be racy without being frivolous. Photo: Sandeep Saxena.

IT IS the in thing for publishing houses to advertise their latest offerings with star-studded launches. So when it is reported that Anand Kurian's first novel, "The Peddler of Soaps" - published by the WLI Foundation and released in New Delhi this Wednesday - is to have no less than 10 launch events across India, the hard sell begins to look like overkill, until the author clarifies that the intention is to encourage public debate and discussion on issues like communalism.

The novel, racy as it reads, carries political and social undercurrents connected to the disturbing rise of communalism, intolerance and violence in India.

Termed "a modern-day fable," the story is set in the fictional land of Mahadesh, and despite its contemporary relevance clad in a thin fictional disguise, Anand Kurian avers that he never intended to write a political novel. In fact, he never even intended to write a novel.

An advertisement filmmaker who worked with a number of multinational companies, Anand says that all the people in his line have a feature film inside them, and he is no exception. But, possibly due to creative people's quality of being "like trees, that absorb influences from all around," he found his screenplay reflecting the murky politics of his time. Convinced that a political film would never see the light of day - it was the period when Deepa Mehta was not even being allowed to conduct the shooting of her stalled film "Water" - he decided to change it into a novel, which doesn't need to face a Censor board and other hurdles.

Conversationally written, "The Peddler of Soaps" is by the author's own description, an easy read, a love story, but since the protagonist Tipu goes through the trauma of being incarcerated in a mental hospital it has a hazy psychiatric aspect that leaves many questions unanswered. "I know as much of Tipu as you do," says his creator. "I also have to guess. Most of the story is true, but there are some gaps. The interesting thing is, everyone has read it from their own perspective. Some have seen it as just an interesting read, some as a love story that's a little different, some as `black', some as a fable."

These varying interpretations no doubt please him, but Anand, who admits to being greatly influenced by M.T. Vasudevan Nair and R.K. Narayan, is categorical that though his protagonist is an ad man, he is not an autobiographical creation.

"Tipu is very impulsive, does everything on the spur of the moment, but I am much more analytical and base myself on logic."

In a life where most of us make adjustments to our basic value system without hesitation, Tipu refuses to compromise. All of us have met people like Tipu, and though they make life miserable for themselves and others in the "elite English speaking world" of "The Peddler... ," Anand points out that we need their like to put society into perspective.

This passionate belief in the serious ideas that surfaced almost of their own accord from an imagination geared to write the screenplay of a feature film is what makes the author excited about audience response to his launches.

In Mumbai, he recalls, even though most may have come to catch a glimpse of celebrities like Shobhaa De and Milind Soman - whose face appears on the cover - they did stay till the end and listened to the discussion on issues important to India.

And what is important to India is important to Anand Kurian. No wonder his publishers are WLI that stands for We Love India.

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