Through his new book "God's Little Soldier", seasoned writer Kiran Nagarkar exposes a world divided between 'us' and 'them', notes SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY
With this book, I want to say that we will have to take responsibility for our actions, that we have to choose to be responsible '... Come home, Zia... Let's put up our feet and talk about old times. About Abbajaan, Zubeida Khaala and Aunt Antonia. And yes, of dear Ammijaan too.'LoveAmanat
Ace writer Kiran Nagarkar's most recent work of fiction, "God's Little Soldier" wraps up with not just an invite from one sibling to another to share a sunset of nostalgia. It hoists questions, answers some, and finally forms a foreground for reunion between them. By an appeal to cross over from the sphere of extremism to restraint. Nagarkar's characters, Zia and Amanat Khan are the sons of affluent, progressive parents in Mumbai but they fork out into different directions. While Zia, always the one inclined towards the orthodoxy of Zubeida Khaala at home, goes to Cambridge University to study economics but eventually becomes an extremist, Amanat, always ailing, grows to be a free-thinking writer. And as the tale swells, the author holds Amanat as the conscience-keeper of the plot, develops Zia into a rabid advocate of his faith, turning him into "pro-death" in the course even as Zubeida Khaala comes across as just "a conservative good Muslim". Explains Nagarkar, "Circumstances craft a man but to an extent. Finally, everyone of us will have to take responsibility for our actions." The protagonist Zia since childhood has been influenced by Zubeida Khaala, he continues, "but we must not forget that she tried to prevail upon everyone at Suleiman Mansion. Zia fell for it and then he took it much beyond her conventional beliefs. She was finally an obedient Muslim who never wanted to question religion. But to kill in the name of faith was never in her teachings."
Through Zia's roller-coaster spiritual quest, avers the Sahitya Akademi awardee, "I wanted to say that we have to choose to be responsible. All of us will have to stop thinking in terms of 'they' and 'us'." Nagarkar feels the thought works in every situation. "If we have a (George) Bush today and a (Adolf) Hitler then, who do you think is responsible for it? It is us. Very soon we will have to choose to be responsible," he declares. Nevertheless in Zia's case, he leaves leeway for transformation: "Some people can be so extremist in their beliefs that they are willing to put their life on the line." Life however, is a continuous discovery, for "how many of us know what we want from our lives?"
Doesn't look for solutions
In New Delhi this past week to launch the Harper Collins publication, the honours of which were done by Bollywood star Aamir Khan by reading out passages from it to a packed crowd, Nagarkar says he has done a lot of research for the book but doesn't want it to be overt on the pages. "Because I am writing a novel and not a research paper." On Aamir being chosen for the book reading, the author has his take ready: "Some time back, I got a call in the middle of the night. It was Aamir from Poland. He called to say that he couldn't take his eyes off my book, 'Cuckold' and ended up reading all my books. So a friend suggested he was the best person to launch my book."Be it his plays, screenplays or his famous books in English like "Cuckold" and "Ravan And Eddie" or his Marathi novels like the well-known "Saat Sakkam Trechalis", Nagarkar has always managed to employ creative writing to raise pertinent issues. "But I don't look for solutions in my characters," he clarifies in case you are accusing him of it. He doesn't do so simply because his job as a storyteller is "not to give messages to readers but to entertain them."
And yet another point he wants to highlight about the tome is, its plot "has been thought out long before 9/11." "Zia becomes more extremist in his beliefs after being in America. He goes to a terrorist camp in Afghanistan. Many would think of it as having some post-9/11 resemblance. But I thought of it eight years ago simply because that country (America) is such," he claims. Much as he derides extremism, Nagarkar nevertheless concludes with this: "Two of the people I admire most - Gandhi and the Buddha - were extremists in their beliefs. But the point is, one should never let go of compassion."