Painting a portrait of pandemic’s people through words

Published on Mar 11, 2022 10:37 PM IST

Author Chetna Keer talks about her new book Giddha On My Gulmohar that delves into how Covid-19 impacted our lives and livelihoods.

Author Chetna Keer travels through the pandemic’s seasons, in her latest book which is a mix of romance and satire.
Author Chetna Keer travels through the pandemic’s seasons, in her latest book which is a mix of romance and satire.
BySiddhi Jain, New Delhi

Amid the ups and downs during the pandemic, what has become of the simple, middle-class dreams that got caught in Corona-scapes? This is the question that Chandigarh-born author Chetna Keer’s new book, Giddha On My Gulmohar seeks to ask and answer. Recently in Gurugram, to sign copies of the title, Keer shares that just like any other author, she, too was longing for the feel of being in the midst of bookshelves and lit fests — something that even the protagonist of her book also endured! 

The main narrative of the book, which Keer describes being as much of a romcom as a literary satire, follows Lollita — a 40 something writer and saree-a-holic single mom from a small town — who along with her literary agent Lambaji travels through literary landscapes and culturescapes. The author elucidates: “It’s about how her literary dream of making it big gets stuck on the cusp of these timelines. The romantic sub-narrative has her being wooed by a younger artist, so it also follows what happens to their summer-spring romance. The story even reveals if their romance survives the contemporary splash of culture, quarantine, and hashtag-ism and status update-ism.”

Travelling through various timelines herself, Keer also tries to bring the cultural and local vignettes of different places in her writing. “The journey of the book is almost synonymous with the pandemic itself. I started writing in the first lockdown. During the first unlock, I went away to the mountains, and removed myself from the city to be able to see the whole corona-scape as a spectator. Then I wrote the rest of the book in the hills. It took me two years to complete it.”

Explaining the “three timelines” that the book follows, Keer shares, “Before Corona, lockdown and unlock — the storyline travels through various landscapes and culturescapes, like Gurugram and Delhi’s Dilli Haat, then Chandigarh and the hills of Himachal Pradesh. The little stories of how Dilli Haat looked and felt during that time, and the metamorphosis after the pandemic, and how artisans were impacted; are all there in this book. The climax unfolds in late author Khushwant Singh’s home in Kasauli. Travelling along with the narrative I uncovered a lot of local stories of Himachal’s natives, and their livelihoods during the pandemic.”

No wonder why Keer calls her book as “a portrait of pandemic’s people”. And in the title, she smiles and shares that “The Gulmohar is not just a metaphor for change of seasons, but also change of pandemic’s seasons. It is through this metaphor that the different moods of the pandemic are reflected. Throbbing through the whole narrative is the heartbeat of hope and celebration of surviving the darkest of times. As a Punjabi, I couldn’t think of a better term as Giddha is a symbol of erupting into a celebration of life, amidst a dance of death.”

Be it through the main characters or the stories of Guptaji and Gangulyji’s middle-class life and dreams, “The readers will find themselves in the book”, believes the author, as she preps to stopover in Delhi’s Saket, for another round of signing copies.

Author tweets @siddhijainn

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