How much of the book is true to life?
So much happened in Bombay during the days of the riots. It’s hard to make up stuff about brutality and killings, so lots of it was drawn from friends and acquaintances — many of who are still living with the scars. But it’s essentially a made up story, a work of fiction.
Was it hard to keep the political commentary alive in the narrative?
Not really. I consciously kept both streams separate. If the reader wants to read about political history, that’s there; if not, well then, it’s a story of self-discovery. The narrative does not necessarily get bogged down by the politics of fundamentalism.
Why did you shift the action from Bombay to Meham?
I was trying to look at how if fundamentalism takes places somewhere, the repercussions are felt all over the country, there are echoes everywhere — which draws out the full dimension of the tragedy... I was looking at a place that was marooned in time and space like Meham, which in Tamil means ‘clouds/sky’ where the three characters — Rajan, a man of God; Noah, a man without God; and Vijay, a naive, idealistic, confused person — could interact. That wouldn’t have been possible in a crowded place.
Your next book?
Will happen, but I don’t know how soon. It’s going to be a historical novel. The setting will most likely be during the time of the Carnatic wars, the twilight of the Mughal empire, when the British and the French were battling for India. A story on how India was lost to India, how empires changed hands. I think that gives rise to many interesting fictional possibilities.
The Solitude of Emperors. The name. How did that come about?
Everyday people can be emperors too, that’s my central thesis. If you are Roger Federer, and a return is coming at you at 90 miles per hour, you only have an instant to think how you’re going to tackle it. But usually when you are faced with a tremendous decision, in what frame of mind do you take that decision? I think it happens in solitude, even if it’s in the company of multitudes. There is a power in solitude — which was what Ashoka, Akbar and Gandhi used even while they were surrounded by their people.