Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The cataclysmic event in our history

C.P. Surendran talks about the impact of the 1947 Partition of India in his latest novel, 'Lost and Found'

By Shevlin Sebastian

Ten years ago, on August 15, at 1 a.m., a girl was raped on the last suburban train from Churchgate to Virar, at Mumbai. “There were three witnesses,” says novelist C.P. Surendran. “They did not do anything. They just watched silently. One of them, a journalist wrote about it on Page 1 of the Times of India. But the question I would ask him is, 'Why did you not stop it?'”

This incident triggered off the novel, 'Lost and Found', in which the main character, Lakshmi, a 35-year-old online porn writer, gets drunk at a Bollywood party and kidnaps the wrong person, a journalist called Placid Hari.

“Lakshmi suspects that Hari is the man who raped her 16 years ago on a train in Mumbai,” says Surendran. “What happens to these two people in the next 24 hours, against the backdrop of a terrorist siege of a city, is the story.”

The main motifs of the novel are the Shiva Sena, the cow-dominated Indian roads, media, and Bollywood. “In Hindi movies, especially the films by Raj Kapoor, there is a strong element of 'lost and found,'” says Surendran. “You have children separated at birth, fathers and mothers are physically separated, and then they come back together, by singing a song, like in the film, 'Yaadon Ki Bharat'. In no country or civilisation will you come across so many 'lost and found' themes.”

Surendran says that this is the impact of the Partition of India in 1947. At that time, 15 lakh people were displaced. “When the British casually drew a line through one's bedroom, the impact on people's lives was devastating,” he says. But, strangely, there is a tendency in India not to confront this event.

“We talk all the time about the persecution of the Jews, especially during World War II, but we don't speak about this great cataclysmic event in our own history – the Partition,” says Surendran.

One reason for this could be that Indians are escapists, by nature. “In Delhi, you can come across some ruins, and nobody knows what it is,” says Surendran. “A ruin is proof that history was made here, but we ignore it. We neglect history and revere myths, like the Ramayana and the Mahabaratha. We prefer fantasy to reality. All those elements are explored in the novel.”

Writing runs in Surendran’s family. He is the son of the late Pavanan (P.V. Narayanan Nair), the founder of literary criticism in Kerala. On a brief visit to Kochi, Surendran comes across as intense and serious. A senior journalist with The Times of India, in Delhi, he has written two novels and four collections of poems. “I have stopped writing poetry,” he says. “I discovered that nobody reads it. As a communication form, poetry is dead. People don't have the time for it.”

Surendran is also a well-known columnist. So how does he manage the roles of novelist, columnist and journalist? “There is no water-tight compartmentalisation,” he says. “They reflect various aspects of my creativity. I feel that at one level, good journalism is very close to good fiction and vice-versa.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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