Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Real Heroes behind the Fictional Heroine

I recently got a very perceptive message from a reader (thanks, Max Zaoui!) that got me thinking about the underlying themes and motivations behind my novel, Alice in Deadland.

He asked whether, being Indian, my view of freedom and struggle against tyranny that permeates the story owed anything to India’s own struggle for freedom against colonial occupation earlier in the 20th century.

That probably had something to do with it, and certainly some aspects of the `rule’ of the Central Committee in Alice in Deadland eg. Using local forces who later mutiny against their foreign masters, using tactics of dividing and conquering, the economic drain of resources to the Mainland- do all owe something to the historical realities of colonial rule India experienced.

However for me, the connection to the freedom struggle waged by India is not just something to be learnt in abstract terms through history books, but something that was much more personal. My grandfather, S.C De Chowdhury, lived through those times, and his story is one that would be fitting material for any novel.

He was a brilliant student, despite being from a very modest background (often studying under streetlights at night), and being a young man at a time when the Quit India Movement was in full flow, took part in protests and agitations against British rule. He was imprisoned and wrote his university exams in prison (incidentally, standing first in the university!) and spent quite some time in and out of prison. When India did get its independence, he decided to join the government of Free India and was a member of the first batch of Indian Police Service officers of independent India, serving till he retired at a very senior level.

He passed away a few years ago, and to some extent, Alice in Deadland was a testimony to this real life hero I had known. His life brought out important themes explored in Alice in Deadland. First, the fact that no matter how young, or how poor, or how weak you seem, you are always strong enough to stand up against tyranny, for that strength has to come from within. Second, it is always a tough journey to make from being a rebel and a revolutionary to actually being part of creating a new regime and system from the inside. And as happened in India’s case, once the hard-fought freedom was won, the rebels and revolutionaries who had sacrificed much to earn that quickly got sidelined by the politicians who were basking in reflected glory. That second theme is something that I am dedicating the sequel, Through the Killing Glass, to exploring.

As an aside, an insight into the spirit that he carried well into his old age comes from a personal anecdote. It was his 80th birthday, and the whole family had gathered in Calcutta to celebrate. I was in Business School at that time and had joined them. He pulled me and my Mom aside and said that he was really bored by all the fussing over him and what he really wanted was a beer. So as the rest of the clan did whatever people do in such large family gatherings, we sat on the roof, drank beer and he told us old war stories.

There was a second, more immediate spark for Alice in Deadland. When I had begun writing it, the first rumblings of the series of uprisings that have come to be called the Arab Spring had begun. As someone who passionately believes in individual freedom of expression and choice, it was really inspiring to see common people from all walks of life join together to overthrow long-standing tyrannies.

There were several thousand unsung heroes of this revolution, but they all brought to life many of the same struggles, and sacrifices that my own grandfather and his generation experienced in India. Each and every one of those faceless and nameless protestors was no less a hero than anything I could conjure up as a writer in my tale Alice in Deadland, for they all shared something in common with Alice- the belief that freedom was something worth fighting, and dying for.

While Alice is a heroine I hope readers admire, I do hope they realize that in this case, the real life heroes behind his heroine are perhaps much more inspiring.

Keep reading and I'll keep writing.


By the way for the next couple of weeks, I and a few fellow authors are part of a Kindle Fire Giveaway on the Kindle Fire Department blog. Do visit this wonderful site for information on Kindle Fire apps and the latest Kindle books and stand a chance to win a new Kindle Fire.


Dwight Okita said...

That's interesting. I like hearing the evolution of a book.

Edward G. Talbot said...

Great story! Thanks for sharing some of what's behind the writing.

k s said...

i am sorry if i am posting in wrong section here, but i could not wait. i read herogiri and that was awesome .
i am so very proud that there is a indian author of such talent. btw friend i am a doctor, and if you need any advice regarding some medicine/ bio plot in any of ur upcoming novel, will be extremely glad to help( keep up the good work man !