New Delhi: Diplomat and writer Pavan K Varma, the author of 16 books, is campaigning for literature in the mother tongue. And his debut fiction, set in India and Bhutan, also offers a dialogue between Hinduism and Buddhism.
"Any writing becomes bad if it is derivative - and not rooted in culture," Varma, the Indian ambassador to Bhutan, told IANS in an interview.
"Ideally, people should write in their own mother tongue and one of my missions now is to give much greater respect and projection to Indian languages."
The writer tells an essentially Indian story in his maiden work of fiction - "Loss is Gain (Rupa & Co)", rooted in two ancient cultures, Hinduism and Buddhism. Sufism comes in as the core of realisation that in order to gain, one has to lose.
The story takes off in India where Anand, an ambitious young lawyer, quits his job when he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Life collapses when wife Tanu walks out of him for best friend Adi, the owner of a law firm. But life offers a second chance when the doctors say the diagnosis was wrong. Free of cancer, Anand walks a crossroad and reaches a point when he has to decide on the course life has to take.
He settles for the simple joys of life amid the mountainous terrain of Buddhist Bhutan at the remote spiritual retreat of Wangsisina where he meets Tara, an enigmatic woman who is fleeing her past. He finds peace with Tara - and faith.
The novel opens a discourse between Hinduism and Buddhism in an attempt to synthesize the two through the riveting narrative.
"The truth is I had a powerful story in my head which is about the way we look at this gift called life and the priorities we set. We sometimes get engulfed by the minutiae of life, tyranny of the trivia and fail to see the benediction of the feeling of just being alive," Varma said.
The book, apart from this premise of life, is also a dialogue between India and Bhutan, Varma said.
"It was not a conscious attempt primarily because of this dialogue between Hinduism and Buddhism. The essence of Hinduism is joy while the key word of Buddhism is sorrow. They are the two sides of the same coin. In addition, the book is also a rumination on the role of the physical and our enlightened understanding of it," Varma said.
Bhutan has brought out the storyteller in Varma. "It is a magical place - the mountain kingdom has its own vibrations and is surrounded by the elemental forces of nature. One is often yanked away from routine and forced to contemplate on life as it were," Varma said.
But the story had been evolving inside him because it incorporated a world view that has grown in the writer about the balance sheet of life, Varma said.
"I was lucky to write it in the inspiring environment of Bhutan. Suddenly, Bhutan and Buddhism were ways to explore through fiction the perennial dialogue between Hinduism and Buddhism. Loss and gain are relative words, but sometimes there is redemption in loss - what we think is gain is another version of loss," the writer said.
Varma, who had earlier written a biography of Mirza Ghalib, uses a couplet from the Sufi poet Bulle Shah in his book to substantiate his story: "A lifetime wasted in trying to win/Now lose, O faqir/Half a grain the price of winning/A diamond the art of loving..."
He said he was researching his new book that "frontally examines the issues confronting India today and attempts to provide solutions".
"It is a book which deals with politics and economics," Varma said.
Varma will unveil his new translations of Bollywood lyricist and poet Gulzar's "Neglected Poems" next week.
Varma, a cultural ideologue, has authored books like "Krishna: The Playful Divine", "The Great Indian Middle Class" and "The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity".