Source : India Express
Publisher-author Ashok Chopra on his latest novel and foray into historical fiction
Publisher Ashok Chopra’s first novel, Memories of Fire (Penguin Random House; Rs 599), is “densely peopled”. Interspersed with the “dark, contemporary history of India and Pakistan”, its characters encounter Operation Blue Star, the 1984 riots and political upheaval in the two countries. Set in Rasoolpur, a fictitious village in Himachal Pradesh, it is the story of four friends who meet in their old age to relive memories of their childhood and adult lives.
“When we were children, we did not know who was a Hindu, Muslim or Sikh,” says Chopra, who was born and raised in Shimla. “Life was very different at that time, and beautiful. Every parent treated us as their own. If they slapped you, they also loved you.”
The novel took him over three years to complete, and he was inspired by Chilean writer Isabelle Allende, who is known for weaving her personal life into the politics of her country. “But none of the characters are based on any of my friends,” says Chopra, 59, when we meet in his Vasant Kunj office, yet a part of him is there in each of them. The book reads like part fiction and part non-fiction thus blurring the lines between the genres; Chopra wanted to write his own “historical fiction”. At places, facts blend well with fiction, but there are also sections one would gladly skip.
Describing his process of writing, he says, “I go totally off the radar, I don’t meet friends, I don’t see movies, I don’t read newspapers or books. Even now, I am not really back, I am still living with the book,” says the Chief Executive at Hay House Publishing India. “There are times when I felt like opening the window and throwing myself out, so that I crash on the ground and something would crack open,” he says.
After a brief stint with journalism, Chopra entered publishing and over four decades has been at the helm of publication houses such as Harper Collins India and Macmillian India. Among his favourite authors are Nadine Gordimer, Gunter Grass, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, and Saadat Hasan Manto.
Chopra’s last book was a memoir, A Scrapbook of Memories (Harper Collins, 2015), and he is currently working on his next novel, The Lovers of Rampore.