Sunday, November 2, 2014

How my personal history inspired me to write a historical fiction

I heard a lot of stories about my father and uncle and grandmother. One particular episode, when my father – he was just seven then – left his mother and escaped to India with his elder brother who was just fourteen, would bring tears to my eyes whenever I listened to it from an old aunt who stayed with us. She would baby sit me and my young brother after our school as both our parents would be out at work. She would tell me the same stories again and again and I would insist on listening to this particular story. It was etched in my memory as if I was there, when all these were unfolding.

Later, when I grew up, I felt, this part of Indian history was not well covered either in literature or films. You get a lot of stuff about the Punjab side of the partition. But a similarly horrific episode of our history in the eastern side, the partition of Bengal, has been almost forgotten by the creative people. I felt someone should write about it. I knew that it would be very tough to write in a space filled with glorious works of the likes of Khushwant Singh and Amrita Pritam Singh, but then I’d already decided not to make my novel another partition saga. But the personal history indeed played a great role in the writing of my first book.
In fact it’s a well-known trend now a days. Many authors are taking their family stories and real life experience to a wider audience through their books. In a recent article in the Hindu, “Stories on Conflict”, ( Jaya Bhattacharji Rose said the following:

Contemporary sub-continental literature comprises storytellers who probably grew up listening to stories about conflict in their regions. It is evident in the variety, vibrancy and strength discernible in South Asian writing with distinct styles emerging from the nations. There is something in the flavour of writing; maybe linked to the socio-political evolution of the countries post-conflict —Partition or civil unrest. In India, there is the emergence of fiction and non-fiction writers who offer a sharp perspective, informed by their personal experiences, who are recording a historical (and painful) moment. Recent examples are Rahul Pandita’s Our Moon Has Blood Clots, Amandeep Sandhu’s Roll of Honour, Chitrita Banerji’s Mirror City, Sujata Massey’s The City of Palaces, Sudipto Das’s The Ekkos Clan, Shahnaz Bashir’s The Half Mother and Samanth Subramanian’s The Divided Land, a travelogue about post-war Sri Lanka.

I fully agree with Jaya. Writing from personal experience makes the story more authentic, poignant and realistic. In most cases the facts and figures are tweaked beyond any acceptable limits by authors to fit an incident into the realms of her literary works. But that makes the very incident look very unrealistic and readers may be able to catch the same very easily. I felt at ease the most while writing the chapters on Bangladesh. I almost everything, the setting, the backdrop, the people, the trees, the rivers, the villages, the horror in the eyes of the villagers. Incidentally most people have told me those chapters are perhaps the best chapters in the entire book. So I myself realized that when I write from personal experience, somewhere it becomes more poignant, more touching.