I wrote Walking Through Fire because I had a story to tell. Not my story but a story. I am a story-teller and a story-teller constantly writes stories in his head, struggling with characters, ideas, feelings, situations – like trying to create a Big Bang so that a universe may be born. The universe that is the story. But from where did these characters, ideas, feelings and situations come? From deep within my own life and all that I have seen and felt.
People, events, experiences, feelings had gathered up inside and over time mutated into vibrant source material, waiting to be drawn upon and shaped into a novel. This source material gathered in layers. When I felt that there was enough in there to tell a story I dug deep through all the layers down to the very core and scooped out segments of many layers, one mingling with the other. Writing this novel was a challenge – it forced me to rise out of the circumstances of my own life, transcend it and tell a story out of it – transforming the material of my life into pure fiction. I believe that it has been as much an act of heroism as the skill of a story-teller.
Is this novel autobiographical? No, it is not. My life is my life with its struggles and triumphs, its moments of glory, moments of disaster and moments of absolute tenderness. But it is my life and concerns no one else but me and those who are close to me. This novel grew inside me, out of my life, and when it was ready it burst out into the world and was held up by its legs and bawled its slimy lungs out. Today, complete, it has its own identity, its own reason for being and I let it go to walk its way into the world.
The idea of Walking Through Fire arrived when I was having a chat over breakfast with the travel writer Jake Bullough, in a quaint resort in South Goa, whilst dolphins bobbed close to the shore and sandpipers skated along the glass-like water’s edge. The air around was licked fresh by a salt wind and I felt good to be alive. Anyway, as I was saying, we got talking about books and films and I found myself saying that the film I’d like to make, if I was a film maker, would be about a young man of hybrid parentage in post Independence India. I went on to describe the difficult circumstances of his childhood and youth and how that planted in him a powerful feeling of violence, a sort of inner rebellion (against his lot in life). And while this inner violence grew, the violence in his family persisted… and outside the country around him was going through its own fair share of violence…the Naxalbari bloodbath in West Bengal, the Bangladesh War of Liberation, insurgency, terrorism. And as he grew up into manhood, he could feel his inner violence rapidly surfacing….until that single apocalyptical moment when his own hidden violence burst out and joined the violence raging about him. That became his ultimate act of liberation.
The story for the supposed film emerged almost effortlessly and when it had spent itself, the conversation meandered off in different directions and silence then took over. In the days and months and years that followed the story stayed with me, somewhere deep inside, and in time I began to regard it as the storyline of a potential novel. Then I started taking it seriously, turning it over and over, upside down and inside out. A story of that nature couldn’t possibly be linear in its narrative. The sheer complexity of its driving preoccupation, demanded that it transcend the straight forward passageways of time and become more organic – moving from time zone to time zone, back and forth. And not just that, the complexity of the central preoccupation also demanded that I begin representing various dimensions of reality. And as the story took on the form of a living breathing organism, I began enlivening it with felt, seen and experienced narratives from my own life picked out and placed in such a way that they were divested of their original context and took on a new meaning. Something like the transmigration of a soul.
When I finally plunged into the narrative, hidden worlds revealed themselves. Some of them seemed like my own but they were not. The central character resisted my writerly manipulations and rapidly evolved, tracing his own steps and swinging back and forth through his own time and space.
Each book that I have written is a step beyond the one before. I think it is important to keep pushing the borders of theme and plot, character and action and to go beyond, moulding newer forms of narrative. I am concerned with what lies within and its response to what lies outside the individual and the conflict between the individual and the circumstances he or she is in.
Walking Through Fire is a step beyond all the fiction that I have written and published so far. I had kept the creative source of my earlier fiction pretty much away from myself and drew upon other people but in the case of this novel, I drew upon myself and my own life. Familiar ground made me bolder and my style more muscularly engaging. It also offered me infinite possibilities as I moved with the character backwards and forwards through time. By doing this, I managed to create a separate reality, a new reality, the reality which belonged exclusively to the character and his story and not to me.