The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 8, 2002

Meet the author
ďIf I didnít write I would feel incompleteĒ

MANDEEP RAIMANDEEP Rai, a 1973 batch officer of the Indian Revenue Service, is now achieving recognition for his writings. He has already made a mark as a novelist, having written In the Shadow of the Pines, No Friends, No Enemies and now the latest When The Vulture Descends (all three published by UBS). Interestingly, his writings are far removed from present times, taking you back to bygone eras, into history and into the lives of those characters who have supposedly faded into oblivion. Humra Quraishi met Rai for an interview. Excerpts:

First the rather obvious query which Iím sure you must be tired of answering ó how did you get the time and the mindset required to write these novels when you have a full-time career in the Indian Revenue Service?

A novelist, to my mind, has to steal time continually, becoming single-minded to the point that writing possesses him. All three novels took shape gradually and slowly. In The Shadow of the Pines took me six years to complete and No Friends, No Enemies five years. The third novel, When the Vulture Descends, which is scheduled for release shortly, took the longest ó eight years.

Your novels are far removed form the present-day reality. They seem to live in the past. As a person, do you tend to live in bygone eras?


No, I donít accept that. In the Shadow of the Pines, which is set in the mid-nineteenth century, deals with one manís dream of changing the destiny of the entire subcontinent. Lord Dalhousie, who had laid the railway network in England, was fiercely determined to create an enlightened, urban-based society in India. He laid the foundations of the modern Indian state. He built more roads and townships than anyone before him or after, integrated the Sikhs into Indian Society and opened up the Civil Services to the Indians. Working with a missionary zeal, he took the society from the Medieval Ages to the modern era. All this definitely impacted the present-day reality.

So also, in No Friends, No Enemies I have brought out very starkly that if the Americans had not disrupted the Paris Conference of the Big Four, the Cold War might well have ended in 1960. Imagine, there would have been no Cuban missile crisis; no Vietnam War and certainly the proliferation of nuclear weapons would have been curtailed. And if there had been peaceful co-existence with the Communists, perhaps Islamic fundamentalism wouldnít have assumed such threatening proportions.

Your writings dwell on either the Raj or Europe of the Cold War period. Why this fascination for Europeans, their history and the so-called heroes of those eras?

I donít think I have any fascination for Europeans as such. Both my published novels are very different from each other. The only common feature is that they are both historical novels, where the known-half of things has been accurately portrayed and an attempt has been made to unearth the unknown-half of things. The third novel When the Vulture Descends is set largely in India and the characters are predominantly Indian.

Do you think weíd be better off if the British were still around, ruling or governing us?

No, I donít think so. After World War II the British had to leave. Perhaps if they had left ten years earlier, Pakistan would not have emerged. Yes, the British did establish very efficient administrative and judicial systems and gave India the finest civil service ó Indian Civil Service ó in the history of the world.

As a government officer do you feel completely free (in the real sense of the term) to write whatever you wish to or do you perceive any constraints subconsciously?

Yes, I feel completely free. The government lays no restrictions on creative writing. Having said that, I would like to say that serious writing has to be handled in a responsible manner and creating controversy for the sake of controversy is not right.

Do you write to fill up some vacuum or a void or to unearth those lost facts or is writing a getting away from files and figures?

My writing is like a fountain erupting ó thoughts often flow so fast and in such profusion that my pen can scarcely keep pace. If I did not write I would feel incomplete and unfulfilled. If there was a void it doesnít exist now.

The lives of most writers are rather turbulent, because their minds donít really follow the conventional path.

No, so far I have led a very placid and settled life. Iím not rebellious or frivolous by nature.

At some point down the line do you see yourself quitting your job to pursue a full-time writing career?

I have been anxiously waiting for an international break. The day I get it I will bow out of government service and take up a full-time writing career.