Some encounters leave a deep impression behind and that’s what I experienced when I finished reading, The Infidel Next Door, by Rajit Mitra. It was and it still has managed to keep me intrigued. And so much that, I decided to have a conversation with author. And he has been kind enough to oblige to my request.
Here is what we talked about.
ME : First of all, KUDOS for your masterpiece and big thanks for agreeing to this interview. Reflection of your experience as a psychologist and of working with people, who have gone through such hardships, can be clearly seen in your book. The plot, the characters and their emotional journey is so real and so alive that it kept wondering am I reading all this or actually seeing this around me. It left many questions in my mind, some related to humanity itself, for which I doubt if even God has any answers and for the remaining ones, I have you 🙂
The story ends with a strong believer of his own religion waiting for the other. Given that I have preference for happy endings, I found that end very painful. I wanted both of them to meet and be friends forever. Well, this could be a very naive thought. Nonetheless, was the end always planned in this direction?
Rajat : At the end of writing, Aditya and Anwar had become symbolic for me for what happened in Kashmir in 1989 after the last exodus that made Kashmir Islamic. Aditya represented the people in exile while Anwar remained the silent voice of conscience of the Kashmiri Muslims that never came out and which I believe will come out one day.
I hadn’t planned that way. They just emerged like that.
Many people who have read the book also find the last chapter the most painful chapter of the whole book. They also felt it to be a mystery one that made them to keep reading.
I wrote it midway through writing the book one fine morning in a single go and added the other chapters later.
ME : That’s interesting. So was there any part in the book, which you found difficult to articulate?
Rajat : 🙂 Actually, many parts were difficult to articulate. I knew that I had taken on a difficult topic and expressing many feelings were difficult keeping in mind the sensitivity of the theme. Some of the ones which I found difficult were:
Anwar’s and Zeba’s visit to the temple and the feelings they have on seeing the various deities. Aditya’s dilemma on how to build the temple and his relationship with his father. Anwar and Aditya’s meeting outside the monastery.
[ME : Anwar and Aditya’s meeting – That’s the one I had guessed 🙂 ]
ME : Though difficult for you, for us it was a great reading delight. While this needs good deal of imagination and creativity, I can see that immense research and reading has gone into the making of this book. How did you manage all this?
Rajat :I read extensively for the book. Almost for every paragraph. I read from magazines, journals and books. I had my field notes collected over the years from the camps and interviewing families.
I was working for a project on human rights when I started writing the book. I wrote every morning from 5 to 8 before I rushed to work. I carried a pen and notebook for many ideas that came suddenly. I even slept with one and some chapters I wrote in the middle of the night.
[ME : An inspiration for people like me who think how can one manage writing with work!!]
ME : Throughout the book I felt, from where does one get courage and inspiration to write on highly sensitive topics. When its related to religious sentiments, it takes no time for controversies to emerge. When you started writing, did you have such fear? Even for a moment did you feel you should drop this topic for your book?
Rajat : I still have that residual fear of how people will take my book, especially in India. I was writing on a relationship between a Hindu priest and Muslim boy living next door. It is the first book of its kind where I write on how they grow up, their adolescence and their indoctrination and their seeing each other through the prism of religious thinking. It is a bildungsroman novel, a coming of age novel and there aren’t many in India so far.
I had to go into the minds of each and the way they think and act according to the times. I had to ask Kashmiri people many times to know if my dialogues and prose sounds authentic.
I know it would be controversial but I know I didn’t create any of it. It already existed before I wrote the book. I have only brought it out.
In India we need to write about controversial issues. That is what literature is about. It is books that give society a direction and people a meaning over issues they haven’t come to terms with and grief that lies unresolved. Many books bring up such issues from the past. They help us to heal and lead to forgiveness.
I was also concerned with chapters on where memory takes precedence over history. I was also bothered about the chapters on torture and abuse.
I never thought of giving up writing the book. I only thought in case I face legal problems I will have to go through a long drawn court case which can be tiring.
ME: I am glad that you created this.
Another way of looking at the end is that since it leaves with hope, there is a possibility of a sequel coming up. Would we see something from you again?
Rajat : A sequel. Not immediately. Some things are better left as they are. It is time that heals and closes the wounds. Maybe if one day the Pandits go back to their homes, Aditya will come back too.
ME : I will wait for him. So apart from writing and understanding human behaviour, what else interests you?
Rajat: Being in nature interests me. Classical music and reading books interests me. I do grief work, a form of therapy that tells me of the universality of grief. I have worked in diverse cultures with second generation holocaust survivors, with people in Aceh, Indonesia, in Sri Lanka and Thailand with terrorists. I enjoy that work.
Apart from that spirituality and its understanding interests me.
ME : Nice. Anything else you would like to say?
Rajat : This is not a book for me but a cause. I want people of India to read this book and connect to their past. I also believe that this book can prove to be healing for some and raise many more questions for those who read it.
Thanks for writing such incisive questions.
ME : Thank you for giving all of us food for thought through this book. I hope the book is widely read and more importantly the message that you have tried to convey is well accepted and acted upon.
Once again, I thank you for your time and I wish you all the best for your future endeavors
The book is available at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions.