Facts & Fiction
Manpriya Khuarana

In Navtej Sarna's latest book The Exile, Maharaja Duleep Singh's emotional and psychological upheavals come in first person account

Just when chic-lit literature and junk genre seemed to dominate the literary scene, here comes a reassurance, a hope that all is not lost. A book is the culmination of thorough insight, immaculate research and exhaustive resources and is not produced in a day. Nor was this. The Exile authored by Navtej Sarna, a renowned name not just in the literary field but the diplomatic circle too, is based on the life of Maharaja Duleep Singh, as fascinating as the subject is the concept behind the book. We talk to the man to know what went behind the scenes, know more about the outcome.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Maharaja Duleep Singh have been the topic of endless discussions, thesis and books. So, what makes this novel stand apart? Answers Navtej Sarna, "I don't think Maharaja Duleep Singh has been written much about. Certainly not from his point of view. Major books on him have been done abroad, not in India." What actually makes it stand apart is the way history has been told. It is not a chronological list or description of events. The story unfolds in Duleep Singh's own voice. As Navtej says, "I would call it a 'fiction based on history', the first person concept is to bring about the fictional freedom in order to cover the psychological and emotional aspects and do justice to them." No wonder, all the historical facts have been kept intact. Just they have been narrated in a way that covers emotional aspects; something that history is generally unable to do.

That's not the only discussion-worthy part about the book. As mentioned earlier, the novel, like any masterpiece, was not conceived in a day. It took nine years to be precise, including the breaks and fieldwork. He explains, "Apart from the groundwork, a lot of traveling went behind it, because the book aims at covering what he must have been feeling, experiencing." The man actually went to places like England, Lahore and streets of Paris and Moscow.

And any fact about Duleep Singh that remains largely unknown? He says, "He died less than 115 years ago, yet I think we need to know closely the circumstances which he went through. The kingdom lasted for 10 years only."

Reluctant to shake off the talks about the subject, we move on (realising no amount of discussing can make-up for reading), to the author himself. From being a bureaucrat to a diplomat to an author. He laughs, "Both the things have been going on for quite some time now. I have been contributing earlier also to newspapers and journals and both things have co-existed happily. This is not his first. He had earlier written We weren't Lovers Like That, The Book of Nanak and Folk Tales of Poland. Frivolous as it may sound, we ask for tips for budding authors. He says, "There's no substitute for writing. Don't worry about publishing." Coming from someone of his stature, it is both humbling and inspiring to the core.