The triumph of good over evil: A chat with Major Vijai Singh Mankotia on his book, Upheaval
In his new book, Upheaval, he explores the lives of two protagonists in love even as the world around them wages war.
Excerpts from an interaction with the popular figure, and how his experience in the public sphere informs his writing.
What inspired you to write about Upheaval? Was there some inspiration in real life to sketch these characters?
Deep down inside me was this irrepressible anger against the people of this country for tolerating and compromising with corruption at all levels.
Upheaval has been written to unmask the ugly face of the Indian politician, expose the insatiable lust, greed, corruption, manipulations and willingness to betray the country and sell their very soul, peddling false dreams to the millions of poor and the impoverished.
Paradoxically, it was not inspiration, but my reaction to a startling, though harsh, almost prophetic observation made by Winston Churchill, the legendary Prime Minister of UK.
Opposing the decision of the then labour government of Prime Minister Clement Attlee in 1946 to grant India independence, he said, and I quote, “Power will go into the hands of rascals, rogues, and freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power, and India will be lost in political squabbles.”
The political scenario we are witnessing is so uncannily matching his observations. Are we more divided, more intolerant, more bigoted and more inclined to violence than those who struggled and fought for independence would have ever dreamt?
Do you consider Upheaval to be a light read or a thought-provoking book?
I would say partially a light read, but largely thought-provoking, intense and delving deep into human emotions.
Challenging the mindset that is reluctant to demolish the system of governance that has been thoroughly corrupted, a system that has widened the gap between the rich and the poor, a system that is steeped in a policy of drift, status quo and blatant exploitation of the masses.
The landscape and the canvas of the novel are sweeping. From the rugged, desolate, arid hills of Kandahar in Afghanistan to the Gangetic plains of Varanasi, the story explores and questions the reason why our leaders have been unable to confront Pakistan sponsored terrorism and the belligerence and the bullying of China.
A unique friendship, bonding and finally the sublime love between the two principal characters, transcending boundaries of religion, carrying the message of universal oneness and the firm belief of the two that they can surmount all odds, is the underlying theme.
The story shows the principled stand of the main character who rejects the dynastic rule that is prevalent. It is a serious read because the story builds up to a climax where ultimately India and the other community of nations virtually are on the brink of what could turn out to be a third world war.
What made you decide that you want to be a writer?
I have been writing since my early days. I have contributed to national dailies.
In 2000, I wrote my first full-length novel, Patterns of Destiny, where I was blessed to have His Holiness the Dalai Lama launch the book in Delhi.
A collection of my poems has also been published. Har Anand my present and past publishers are planning to re-print Patterns of Destiny.
My urge to apply pen to paper was to arouse the smothered conscience of people who have become silent spectators to the injustice, vandalism, exploitation, rampant corruption, blatant abuse of power, rape, and murder of women and the girl child, atrocities committed against the poor.
If we continue to live in fear and not speak up against a morally bankrupt leadership, then the sacrifices of our freedom fighters would be in vain.
We need to ignite minds, the greatest revolutions happen through the writing of free thinkers. Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher has rightly observed...” for if we are silent, who will speak.”
My only concern is that writing and publishing should not become the exclusive domain of the rich and powerful.
Literary festivals should not become the domain of retired bureaucrats pontificating or shallow minds claiming succession to Tagore, Mulk Raj Anand, RK Narayan or perhaps Nayantara Saigal!
The celebrated filmmaker Guru Dutt's movie Pyaasa on the life of a revolutionary Urdu poet Sahir Ludianvi should be an eye-opener.
Can you describe your writing process?
Writing must come naturally. One must feel passionate. Something must provoke you to write. A happening. An incident. Romance. A tragedy. Overpowering beauty of nature or its destruction. Or as I said earlier, to awaken the sleeping conscience of a people.
Personally speaking, if I have the outline of a story that touches me or stimulates me, I can easily then fill in the characters, situations conflicts both internal and external.
As one puts pen to paper, ideas unfold and thoughts simply flow and the climax presents itself. Not being a full-time writer, disruptions and interruptions are plenty, but unavoidable.
Do you re-read books? One book that you would read again and again?
Oh yes! I do… time and time again. I do so as the writes were master craftsmen. Societies, values, and environments were different.
War, bloodshed, violence always existed. But then there was love, romance, adventure, gallantry.
Above all, there were deep thinkers and philosophers. Promoters of the Renaissance. The poets, the non-conformists. The sane and those who defied sanity.
One book that I never tire of rereading is The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, whose philosophy of reason and objectivity was path-breaking.
She creates powerful characters who are brilliant in their spheres of the profession but unrelenting in their values that they considered non-negotiable and inviolate.
A few other outstanding works are -:
For whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
How Green was my Valley by Richard Llewellyn
Desiree by Annemarie Silenko
In the Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris West
The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
Any advice you would like to give to other aspiring writers?
I don't think I am really qualified to be giving advice, all I can say is that what one writes should be of consequence and should impact the mind of the reader.
Remember it all began with the fairy tales, the folk tales, the grandmother's bedtime stories, the moral always being the triumph of good over evil.
The mind must escape to the wonders of enchantment and imagination.
Sometimes, I wonder if our changed modern lifestyle with the extraordinary reach of the electronic devices has snatched away the joys of childhood and the freedom to dream, to wonderment, fantasy, curiosity, imagination, and aspiration.