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When fiction comes to life

by Krishan Partap Singh
Monday , May 21, 2012 at 12 : 16

India is in crisis. A corrupt government rules with no clear and credible replacement in sight, the economy is in terminal decline, the people's trust in the political system is at an all-time low and this dire situation is capped by a clash between the civilian and military leadership of India. Sound familiar? The state of the nation, circa 2012, certainly, but also the premise of my last novel, "Delhi Durbar", published two years ago. The book describes how an Indian Army General by the name of Brajesh Dayal tries to wrest power in Delhi, taking advantage of the people's apathy and frustration towards an increasingly dysfunctional and faltering democracy. Espousing the part of a saviour and holy warrior against corruption, General Dayal promises the country freedom from venal politicians and lays out a road to a new, prosperous India in exchange for his being given a free authoritarian hand to rule. The people of India are sorely tempted by the offer made by this Indian Caesar.


When my novel was published in February 2010, I was assured by reviewers, critics and the like that the book's plot was only possible in a far-fetched alternative universe and would never ever come close to happening in self-assured 21st century India where democracy was ingrained in our national psyche and also because the army was apolitical to a fault.

To tell the truth, I did not totally disagree with them. So when I woke up three weeks ago and picked up that morning's edition of the Indian Express it shocked me to my core, so much so that my legs buckled and I collapsed into the nearest chair. Fiction, my fiction to be exact, appeared to have come to life in the purple prose of Mr Shekhar Gupta.

Now, without going into details of the Express article -- discussion of which has been forbidden by a court order along with every other troop movement likely to take place within and beyond our borders -- let me just say that what I read that day in the Indian Express was eerily similar to the doings of the dastardly and very fictional General Brajesh Dayal in my book, down to the similar army units involved in suspicious troop movements around the nation's capital.

Whatever the truth about the actual occurrences on that cold and foggy January night, and we may never get a satisfactory explanation of them, it is nevertheless a cause for grave concern that we in India were even contemplating the question of the army's motives. It meant that Indian democracy, after two already terrible years, had hit rock bottom -- a state of affairs I had contemplated in fiction but never expected to live through.

The Indian Express story had an almost immediate effect on my life, resurrecting my book in the minds of the minority who had read it and bringing it to the attention of many who had not. Readers flooded my email inbox looking to share their excitement, acquaintances phoned to do the same, and I attempted to act my most modest, not a natural trait I must confess, but try mightily I did. The buzz reached a whole different level when the good people at Outlook magazine chose to mention Delhi Durbar and its similarities to the Express story, even quoting a couple of lines from the novel to prove the point. Social media got involved at this point and the tweets began in earnest. The Indian Express, alerted to my existence, called me to say they were considering doing a piece on Delhi Durbar and needed a copy of the book as soon as possible. I suspect they wanted to see for themselves what all the fuss was about.

Hindustan Times also followed with a nice piece and then the mischievous Sunday Guardian returned the story into the realm of fiction by postulating that the Indian Express had come up with their article after reading my book, and my father had been overheard around town saying just that! The tweets kept on coming.

I found it hilarious but my father was, as you might expect, not as amused, especially since he along with the rest of us had spent that entire week in Jaipur, far away from Delhi's gossip circuit, hosting my brother's wedding, all things political being the furthest thing on any of our minds.

It is a very safe assumption to make that Shekhar Gupta and his intrepid reporters had never heard of me or my book, and furthermore I have to say that the Express story rings true to me, my judgement based on all that I learnt during the months of detailed research I did for my novel, specifically into piecing together the anatomy of a coup.

What a maelstrom I found myself in and the only active part I had played really, beyond writing the book ages ago, was waking up and reading the newspaper. As Outlook pointed out, in its write up about "Delhi Durbar", there is a long history of novels presaging future events. If something out of the ordinary takes place in real life you can bet that there is a novelist somewhere, sometime, who thought about it first. It is a serendipitous result of what I consider to be an important and difficult aspect of a political novelist's task - to write about the contemporary world and attempt to peek into the myriad possibilities and probabilities that the future may hold. Thus allowing the application of imagination and fact to combine in the search for the barest glimpse at the truth. And sometimes, very rarely, like a solar eclipse or a mirage, the imagined and real worlds overlap ever so briefly and everything seems possible.

The Indian Express article left the country bemused, the media frantic and the government jittery. A High Court gag order from the other end of the Gangetic plain shut the door with alarming alacrity on further public discussion about the subject, suspending the conversation midway with unanswered questions dangling in the air.

But there is one option still available to the curious reader who would like to see what all the hullabaloo is about, if I may be permitted a tiny bit of crass opportunism, I suggest you sample my book, "Delhi Durbar", because I wrote it in an attempt to explore some of those very same unanswered questions that have bedevilled us these past three weeks. Have we taken our democracy for granted? Is military rule a possibility in India? Under what circumstances?

It is the prerogative as well as the duty of fiction, especially political fiction, to fearlessly delve into scenarios that may plausibly make the high and mighty squirm. To succeed in this endeavour we writers must stay true to our craft at all costs. It is for you, the reader, to judge the results.

(Krishan Partap Singh is the author of the Raisina Series, of which the final book, called The War Ministry, will be published by Hachette India in November 2012. He can be contacted at raisina.series@gmail.com.)

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