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Science and sensibility

BUDHADITYA BHATTACHARYA
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BOOKMARK Rajiv Seth’s debut novel tells the story of an extramarital affair set against the backdrop of cloning

The cover of Never Say Goodbye , Rajiv Seth’s debut novel, features a woman holding a stethoscope while a shadowy figure appears to be walking away in the distance. Also visible is the hazy outline of the double helix shape of DNA. It is made amply clear, therefore, that the reader is going to be entering the world of medicine.

Its protagonist Anjali, a doctor, is in an unhappy marriage with Sunil, a businessman who views her as the means to improve his credentials amongst his friends. Also, Sunil, his brother Ajay and sister-in-law Devika, seem incapable of understanding Anjali’s ambitions to further her career through research and by gaining exposure to a variety of diseases. Anjali’s pregnancy complicates matters further, and just when she appears to have burnt her bridges, she meets Aakash, also a doctor, who not only understands her ambitions, but provides, at different points, a path for their realisation as well. The novel is an examination of extramarital affairs and how “we are tied with some relationships,” according to the author.

After specialising in aeronautical engineering, Rajiv did his Ph. D in business administration. He now works with the TERI University in New Delhi where he teaches finance, and looks after the administration of the university. The choice of setting is therefore a curious one. It stems from his familiarity with cloning experiments, he reveals.

“I have been fascinated by the world of genetics ever since Dolly the sheep was cloned (in 1996) and have followed it quite closely. I started doing research on my own on the topic and found very little existing research in India,” he says. The author has worked some of these insights into the novel as plot appendages. Anjali, for instance, enrols in a training programme at the fictitious Sanger Institute in the U.K., which has been involved in increasing the output of finished DNA sequences. The novel’s conclusion itself is open-ended, and introduces the possibility of the creation of a cloned human being.

Another interesting aspect of the novel is its use of poems. Rajiv started writing poetry at a very early age and would very often pen down his thoughts as verses. These have now become a big collection, which, the author tells us, is “a personal, not publishable collection.”

The author has previously published papers in academic journals, and says it demands a very different rigour compared to writing a novel. Writing novels is more of an “interlude from the academic world,” he adds. But being attached to a university gave him a willing readership. “A whole lot of students were reading something other than their textbooks. So that was very gratifying for both the parties,” he laughs.

BUDHADITYA BHATTACHARYA

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