What is the title of this book about?
My editors asked me to write this âautobiographyâ a few months ago and I undertook it on commission, not as a long term project with notes etc. nor on a whim. It took me a few weeks, followed by responses to editorial requests, restrictions and revisions.
The name of the book came after several refusals from my editors who did not want to call it Parsi cream Where The scribbler tale or 20 other suggestions. They finally and enthusiastically accepted Fragments against my ruin – but not every incident or encounter has a resonance of ruin. I don’t think the truth, or a memory-based attempt at truth, ever âprotectsâ you. On the contrary, it inevitably exposes several vulnerabilities.
The title is an abbreviated quote from TS Eliot and like him (and everyone?) The memories of a lifetime are all we have as time catches up …
Some of your characters are familiar from other books, but their names are different. What is it about?
When the editors first approached me for an autobiography, I asked if I hadn’t already done so in my trilogy. Poona Company, Cambridge Company and London Company. My editor and agent Priya Doraswamy said, âYes, but it was fictional. We now want the “real” account and moreover in your fiction you haven’t covered your years of television and writing or your interaction with illustrious and well-known characters such as VS Naipaul, CLR James and Charles Sobhraj. , to only cite a few. So I accepted.
In The bikini murders, a novel I based on my knowledge of Charles Sobhraj, I changed the names of the characters not just for legal reasons, but because my creativity – as it is – would inevitably take liberties with their descriptions and their actions. Fiction is the purdah of true traits.
However, in the trilogy I generally used the real names of many, but not all of the characters. In Fragments against my ruin I took the risk of naming everyone.
There is a chapter in Fragment which begins: “Johnny said he was going to use the four months of summer vacation to travel overland to India …” He soon becomes an important character in the book – but there is no indication of who Johnny is!
His name was Richard John Barter Snow and unfortunately he passed away at the end of October of this year. I met him in Bombay shortly before going to Cambridge to study. He was walking in the rain and I stopped my taxi to pick him up and dropped him off where he wanted to go. We exchanged names and he told me he was going to Cambridge, and was very surprised – at first he wondered if I was joking – when I said I was too. In my second week in Cambridge he came to my college and found me, we went to the pub together and he became part of the crowd that I moved with.
I remember writing that he contacted me and we quickly became friends. Somehow he escaped, whether during edits or in production. Oddly enough, the editors didn’t get this, nor did two friends who read the manuscript and now tell me that they assumed it was the same person I stopped the cab for.
You mentioned a retired crossing guard who was a director of a well-known company, and an occasion you “blackmailed” him. What happened to the young woman he had trapped in an inappropriate relationship, did she do well?
Oh oh oh! Mea culpa. I never mentioned the name of the sergeant who had an affair with the young girl whose name I did not mention either. The dashing and very pretty young lady married a very successful capitalist and I think she lives happily ever after, but as Pope Francis said when asked if homosexuality was a sin I would add : “Who am I to judge? “
It was interesting reading up on Charles Sobhraj and how he frequently contacted you as someone he could turn to! Did you feel that The snake did he do his story justice? And how does that compare to your Bikini murders?
I met Charles Sobhraj after he was released from prison in Tihar after he deliberately managed to get a 20-year sentence in an Indian prison so that the death penalty for the murders he committed in Thailand would have expired, under the statute of limitations of Thai law. . The snake A TV series told the story of his life and his crimes in Thailand and how these were detected and led to his arrest. The series ends with a caption in the last episode which says words like “No one knows why Sobhraj went to Kathmandu in 2008 and was sentenced to life for the murders he committed there”. This legend is false. I know why he went and âriskedâ the imprisonment. The caption prompted me to write a full account of my interaction with Charles Sobhraj. It is a book soon to be published in the UK and available in India titled Falcon and Hyena and is, unlike The bikini murders, strictly factual and based on what Charles and his ex-wife Chantal (who The snake called “Jacqueline”) told me.
Is there a reason why Prophet of love not in Fragments?
There is absolutely no reason why Prophet of love, Black Swan, Run, Lyrics, or others of the 35 published books that I have in my name are not listed here, except that there was no proper story to attach to their writing. Now that you have pointed that out, maybe Prophet is one of those whose story I can remember as I traveled to my hometown of Pune, to write about the new phenomenon Rajneesh for a UK weekly. and that I found myself embroiled in an affair with a young devotee who told me about his horrific experience. It left me wondering in the end what was true and what was lies or hallucinations.
The book is a slightly fictional encounter with Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and characters from his ashram, and I changed all of their names because the Osho wallas are so eager to continue. I wanted to call her Sex prophet but the editors did not.
What was it like writing the script for the movie Jinnah, which makes a hero out of someone you denounced for his role in dividing the subcontinent on the basis of religion, and subsequently professing his surprise at the resulting massacres?
Yes i wrote Jinnah, the film, and I recalled how and why in Fragment. Yes, I did and I consider the partition of India to be a tragedy. I was prompted by producer Akbar Ahmed and my good friend Jamil Dehlavi, the director, to put aside my indigenous, nationalist or Marxist âprejudicesâ and read some accounts of these events, including the biography of Jinnah by Stanley Wolpert. I read them carefully and came to the conclusion that Jinnah wanted to win an argument and ended up with a country.
Partition is still a tragedy for me, and modern nation states declaring themselves religious is, for me, a step back in history. I hope the film humanized Jinnah whom I described as shaken to the roots by the outcome and the consequences of what he had been the stubborn instrument to bring about.
Fragments seem to indicate that many of your opportunities to advance as a writer were pure coincidence, why do you think that could be the case? Karma, maybe?
I once heard a good friend say that blind and lame people and babies with thalidomide deserve their condition for doing what they have done in past lives. It took me away from the notion of Karma forever.
I had the ambition to be a writer very early in my life. That it makes a career out of it and earns my living for several years thanks to that, it’s luck and chance. I was in the right place at the right time, but maybe more than that, I was writing things that people wanted to read.
It reminds me of something I wrote in Fragment, the time I was in Bangalore in 2001, and got a call from the BBC asking me to speak to myself on the prestigious radio show The world to one. I asked them why? They said: “About your friend VS Naipaul”. My heart sank. Was Vidia dead?
“What about him?” I asked. âHe just won the Nobel Prize for Literature,â said the publisher. I immediately called Dairy Cottage, Wiltshire and Nadira, Lady Naipaul, responded saying the place had gone crazy with hundreds of reporters and TV cameras, and Vidia was in the middle of interviews. I said she should pass on my congratulations and she said, “No, if he knows you called and I didn’t tell him, he’ll be pissed off, so wait.” ”
Vidia came on the phone and said in her usual way “Farrukh, Farrukh, you heard about my little luck!”
Saaz Aggarwal is a freelance journalist. She lives in Pune.