Author, columnist, kinnow (orange) grower, husband and a father — the multi-faceted Khushwant Singh spoke about the importance of teenagers and a writer’s responsibility towards his/her land at the launch of his novel, Maharaja in Denims, in Chandigarh on Sunday.
It is the story of an atypical 18-year-old Chandigarh boy, Hari, who starts getting flashes of his previous life as Maharaja Ranjit Singh, no less. On a visit to England, while at Dilip Singh’s grave and the Victoria and Albert Museum, which houses Ranjit Singh’s throne, the idea for the story took hold in Khushwant’s head.
“It just got me thinking, if Ranjit Singh were alive today, what would he think, to see his son buried amid Christian rites and his mighty throne on display like a trinket; what would he think of the state of today’s Punjab?” questions the author. What would the maharaja think indeed, one wonders. “A writer can only really contribute with his words and through them, has a responsibility towards his culture and the land he belongs to,” says Khushwant, who is known for writing extensively on the Punjabi and Sikh Diaspora.
Though we can safely assume he did not wake up as Ranjit Singh, Khushwant underwent past-life regression himself to understand the framing of his protagonist, Hari. Defending his choice of writing a teen fiction novel, he says the genre is more important than it is given credit for. “Kids these days understand a lot more than we think they do,” he says.
With his last three books being non-fiction, fiction he believes, is a tougher genre to work on. “While writing non-fiction, you are already working on something that exists, whereas with fiction, you are creating something from scratch,” says he, further adding, “I started with one ideain my mind, but ended up with another.” Though he loved every minute of it, right down to tearing pages up in frustration.
His farming background, marriage and fatherhood are all elements that gave flight to his idea, says he. “I’m experiencing a lot of different things and somewhere or another, it helps me in the creation of my books,” he concludes.