Source : The Asian Age
A debut novel adapts a Shakespearean tragedy and sets it in modern India.
Centuries after he created them, William Shakespeare’s works continue to inspire literature enthusiasts across the globe. Readers and students of the English language have read or watched and fallen in love with at least one play written by the great bard. Preti Taneja, a Warwick academician and human rights activist, re-imagined the tragedy of King Lear in the context of the huge social and economic developments in contemporary India and came up with her debut novel — We That Are Young. The story discusses the current Indian scenarios and their impact on individuals as well as on the underlying political issues of the country such as the unrest in Kashmir.
Preti first got introduced to King Lear at school where her teacher inspired her to see the relevance of the play in her own life. “I studied the play at school and had a brilliant English teacher. I could see a traditional Indian family in the play straight away — the relationships and dynamics of nationalism linked to patriarchy, the partition of a kingdom that starts the plot, predicated on women as units of exchange by having to perform for family honour and having servants (which I had experienced in India as domestic help) made sense in ways it just didn’t to my English peers at the time. The idea wouldn’t leave me alone until it was done.”
About what inspired her to start writing the book she says, “India! The place I visited a lot as a child!” She adds, “I wanted to write about a world usually explored in investigative journalism and non-fiction without dressing it up in satire. Inspiration came from my experiences as a human rights reporter as well — I heard many stories about the toll that unaccountable social injustice takes on young people from different parts of the world.”
Preti’s book focuses on five young characters, each of whom tell their story in their own voice. The family at its centre consists of Devraj, the head of the multi-tentacled India Company, his daughters Gargi, Radha and Sita, his son Jeet and his right-hand man Ranjit. The family isn’t just elite, they’re literally royalty.
Talking about the kind of research that went into the book, Preti says, “Apart from my existing knowledge of the play, I did a lot of reading about a lot of subjects spanning from Indian business families to gender politics, history of art, economics, Delhi trees, global fashion brands and Kashmir shawl production. I did my undergraduate degree in theology and I studied Hinduism and Sanskrit — so as to get the language and some of the references in the book right. I went back to those notes as well, which helped a lot. I went to fancy hotel events and visited people in slums at the same time; I joined protests and went to corporate meetings. I also spent time in Kashmir.”
Sharing about her favourite character from the book, the 40-year-old debut author adds, “Radha is my favourite — she’s so clever and funny, but so badly underestimated, and even abused. I think we all know someone like her — unfortunately her experience is not unusual.”
Preti loves teaching and socialising when she is not writing. “A lot of my time is spent writing, teaching and researching. I love walking around in cities, finding a new bookshop full of writers I haven’t yet come across or new bars and cafes to read in, especially if they serve interesting food and drinks. I also have a terrible Twitter habit I am trying to break out of. A few years ago I began boxing — I try and do that three times a week. It completely clears my head and gives me a natural high,” she signs off.