Author Arbind Bhatia on his debut novel 'Marriage in the Time of Corona'
Debutant author Arbind Bhatia's first book is largely inspired by his own life and love story. But if not for a near-accident - this finance professional might never have taken the plunge to start writing in the first place. Singapore-based Bhatia's spectrum of genres cover poetry to rap lyrics to short stories and now his new book Marriage in the Time of Corona, which came out earlier this year. We're told to expect a heady mix of adventure, humour and adrenaline as readers adventure through everything from a cross-cultural courtship (of a Sikh groom and a Thai bride) to all the travel complications and restrictions that come with planning a wedding amidst a pandemic. Excerpts from the interview:
1. Walk us through the journey of writing your first book amidst a pandemic.
It all really began once the lockdown was initiated at the end of March last year. With the whole world coming to a virtual standstill, I thought it’d best to use the extra free time provided in being creative, and I began penning a plot along the lines of the few weeks that had just passed. It was just supposed to be an extended post on social media for family and friends, but the feedback which I had received was so subtly persuasive, that I thought it’s time to take the next step in writing. It was inevitable. I spent the following months layering additional sub-plots by weaving transitional elements into the story, and by Christmas, it was ready to hit the publishers.
2. We hear the story is based on your own wedding and the adventures and difficulties in the lead-up to it.
We landed in India at the end of February 2020 to finalize attire and menus for the weekend wedding celebrations in April. A couple of days after arriving, the news of COVID-19 began dominating the headlines, so much so that my wife was told by both of her sisters that their employers had disallowed employees traveling overseas as a result. This is where the story begins. I sensed that things were about to get worse before they’d get better and it had me pivot – from quickly determining a controversial manner in which we could marry to expeditiously executing the plan across Northern India. Both had us jumping through hoops of bureaucracy at all levels, family included! It was as exhilarating as it was exhausting. Just the day after we returned back to my parent’s home, interstate and international travel was halted and a complete lockdown was instituted a few days later. We couldn’t have timed it better.
3. How did you meet your Thai wife? Is there a romantic story there?
It was at a restaurant in Bangkok in 2015, when a lovely smile caught my attention. Audy and I spoke briefly and remained in touch. But it wasn’t until a year after our first meeting that she actually allowed for the courtship period to begin. The details of the romance leading to our actual marriage, including the musical fashion in which I proposed to her, are all interlaced within the book.
4. Is it true that a near-death incident got you started with your writing? What happened, could you rewind for a minute?
I woke up one morning at Fortis Hospital Chennai in September 2013 after having been in a coma for two weeks. I was vacationing in Pondicherry and has sustained several severe injuries in an accident, including a fractured skull which left seven hemorrhages in the brain. Other than motor skills, a key area of focus during recovery in the hospital and once I was discharged two months later was the improvement in linguistic and speech abilities. As it slowly started coming back to me, I was advised to write a few thoughts every day. Scribbles very quickly became strokes of poetry and short stories, quite naturally. I became a little obsessed during the seven months of rehabilitation, possessed almost with the need to articulate the out-of-body experience that I had. Prior to my accident, my creative capabilities were limited to musical lyrics, but since, I haven’t stopped writing across various mediums.
5. What are you working on next?
The themes I have explored since my accident while writing poetry, rap lyrics or short stories generally revolve around social injustice and the degeneration of mankind. I’d like to expand those thoughts into a novel that I am currently developing and will touch upon these issues. I will release that book in 2022.
Published by White Flacon Publishing, priced at INR 299. Available online.