'Authenticity comes from the roots'

Looking Inwards

'Authenticity comes from the roots'

It might well be a fiction, but one that stems from reality, one that contemplates existentialism. With ‘When Loss Is Gain’, author and Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, Pavan K Varma, extends his playing field into fiction, after a string of acclaimed non-fictional works. “The story found me,” he reveals.

He has been wearing many hats for quite a while. “For over 20 years, I have been writing and have been busy as a diplomat. I am comfortable with my profession as well as my avocation. The truth is if you love something, you will always find time to do it. When a powerful theme or story is living with you, it propels you to find time. I write even in the crevices of the day,” he elaborates.

So was it a conscious decision to shift to fiction? “Writing is a seamless activity across genres. I had a powerful story in hand which I wanted to put down.” Non-fiction, he says, has externality while fiction is more of an interior journey. “Any story is a reflection of yourself. ‘When Loss Is Gain’ is about two very basic questions. How do you deal with death? How do you deal with the gift of life?” he says.

The story is fast-paced and set in contemporary India and Bhutan. “Bhutan and India are part of the same culture. I wanted to contrast the effortless cacophony of the metropolis with the aloof grandeur of nature. Bhutan and India are also metaphors for Buddhism and Hinduism.” Incidentally, there is no missing the dialogue between Hinduism and Buddhism in this work.

Varma has always taken inspiration from his culture and is deeply rooted in it. However, he regrets how “there is a real danger of the educated urban class progressively becoming culturally rootless”. “We are soon going to be a nation of linguistic half-castes,” he laments.

Time and again, he has also emphasised the role of mother tongue and how we have been drifting away from it. “English is the language of communication while mother tongue is the language of culture.

We need to identify and encourage new talents in our own language.”

Varma has also translated the poetry of Gulzar, Kaifi Azmi and Vajpayee. “Translation appears simple, but it is a task of great discipline. Importantly, it should not be transliterated. The translator should capture the spirit of the original without losing the cadence and rhythm,” he says.

About the sudden rise of Indian authors in English, he says, “There is mediocre talent and this needs to change. Aspiration is good but talent is as important. There must be authenticity and that comes from the roots.” He also minces no words when he talks about cultural diplomacy. “Culturally, we are a superpower.

Therefore, we need to leverage this soft power as a significant tool of diplomacy. I have always tried to and have done it.”
His next work, he says, would be a major work of non-fiction though he doesn’t rule out another fiction.

“The non-fiction will deal bluntly with what needs to change in India. We have to question much of what is happening today if we have to make a quantum leap,” he adds.

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