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Of love... irreverent, infidel

Navtej Sarna's "We Weren't Lovers Like That" is not a shot of heady rum but tickling dash of soothing gin which doesn't give us a bad aftertaste. OM GUPTA speaks to the author to know the real taste of love and all that goes with it in this new publication... .

Navtej Sama.

IF NAVTEJ Sarna had not taken to writing, he might have ended up as a miniaturist. The graphic details with which he has filled his 214-page yet to be released debut novel, "We Weren't Lovers Like That" - published by Penguin India - speak volumes about his minute observations, sensitive portrayal, inner dimensions and above all how people around us behave and why.

The novel is set in contemporary lives but it has a timeless universal flavour of places, persons and

things. Time moves, life goes on but nothing changes. Wives like Minas with their infidelities were always there and will always be. There is Rajiv, for whom she deserted 14-year marriage with the main protagonist (One won't call him the hero because there are no white heroes and black villains in the novel. All of them have been painted in different shades of grey like all of us).

Aftab is incidental. He takes us to a train journey from Delhi to Dehra Dun via Saharanpur, Roorkee and Haridwar. And through this train ride he takes us to another journey - the one of his life. He narrates the events through people and places with microscopic precision without passing any judgement in the process. With him Navtej Sarna is able to put together a tale that keeps the reader interested all the way through. Here is a conversation with wordsmith:

Q. It is said that all of us have a book in us. And those of us who choose to write are depleted after that. If they decide to write more then they repeat themselves. After writing your first novel are you feeling the same?

A. I am only too well aware of what you are saying. There is natural tendency to rework, usually unconsciously, the same emotions, the same obsessions. At the moment though I feel that I have put so much into this book that there may be nothing left. My other books in the pipeline therefore belong to different genres.

The second one is non-fiction and the novel in the planning stages is a historical novel. Both of them rely far more on research and fact than the present novel; they will be different.

Q. Is there any co-relation between the stopovers of your train journey and different phases of life?

A. Inevitably. As the protagonist passes through the train stations he relives, in the present, or the immediate past or in fact the distant past, aspects of his life. And one wouldn't reach a particular station if the train had not gone past the previous station. The past never leaves us, memory is always watching over our shoulder.

Q. You have left the quest of Aftab at an ambivalent note. Can we call it a mirage or you didn't want your readers to feel sadder?

A. I would imagine that when we leave Aftab he is moving towards a slim hope, fearfully, hesitatingly. It's never too late to hope, never too late to tell yourself that you should be doing what you really need to.

Q. How would you like your readers to remember your hero, an escapist, a week-kneed, emotional wreck, daydreamer, drifter or something else?

A. Perhaps he is all of what you say and yet he is something more. He is a man who has the courage, despite his obvious weaknesses, to face his own reality without flinching. His life in shambles, he can pick out his long held guilt and recognise it. He can understand that he no longer belongs to the world around him, his disconnection is complete and that he has to feel neither incompetent nor sorry. He has to simply state his own terms.

Q. At places you have caricatured and lampooned certain characters like Jamshed in the mould of

Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Is it because of an influence?

A. Perhaps. Sometimes caricature is the best way of making all the edges stand out and lampooning some aspects of our life was the best way of expressing the disgust that Aftab feels.

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