Published: 2017 by Speaking Tiger Books
To Deepa, Prem gave no hint of the churning inside him. In front of her he affected a cheery demeanour, indulging her in her plans for their honeymoon, which she kept revising. It was a welcome escape from the mayhem surrounding him. There were occasions where the pretence got to him and a voice rose inside, urging him to tell her everything. He silenced it. Deepa was a Hindu and would never understand.
Until then, he had never thought of her as different.
Prem Kohli, the handsome, ambitious son of a Sikh refugee, has the world at his feet. A glittering career lies ahead, and he has just got engaged to his college girlfriend, Deepa, overcoming her parents’ reservations about Hindus and Sikhs intermarrying. But, while Deepa remains occupied with their marriage plans, the Indian Army enters the Golden Temple. Prem cannot contain his rising anger at the desecration of the shrine and at the people around him who shrug it off as ‘teaching a lesson’ to the Sikhs. He begins growing out his hair and beard, and visiting the gurudwara regularly, where he learns about the militancy in Punjab. Matters come to a head a few months later, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated and anti-Sikh riots break out all over Delhi, as Prem is caught up in a vortex of violence and hate that threatens to engulf all of their lives.
In The Assassinations, Vikram Kapur writes with sensitivity about a topic that still holds painful memories, skilfully telling the story of how ordinary lives are distorted by the forces of history. At the same time, he masterfully evokes the New Delhi of the 1980s, with its wide, leafy roads masking the precariousness of its Punjabi middle class. This memorable book captures the turbulence of those times, while chronicling the ways in which continuing to live means coming to terms with many kinds of deaths.
Vikram Kapur is a writer from New Delhi. Sometime in his mid-twenties the poetry of William Butler Yeats rocked his world. While his initial ambition of becoming a poet in the tradition of Yeats quickly waned, the writing bug did not. For several years he attempted to snuff out the bug by casting himself in the role of the typical Indian middle-class male. Holding on to a steady job and living a routine life while clamping down hard on literary ambition each time it reared its head. By his mid-thirties, however, he could fight the bug no longer. One day he simply put pen to paper and wrote a passage that became the beginning of his first novel Time Is a Fire.
Q n A
Q. How did you come up with it and why the title?
I was in my early teens during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the one thing that has stayed with me since is the communal poison those riots injected between two communities, Hindu and Sikh, that had no history of conflict and had lived in amity for centuries. All of that showed me how easily the secular fabric of our country can tear to give way to mistrust and apprehension. That realisation affected me deeply. Since then, I have written a lot on this subject.
Last year, I was putting together an anthology on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots called 1984, In Memory and Imagination. That was when the idea came to me to write a novel on how such events affect the lives of ordinary people. A lot has been written about the politics underpinning the events of 1984 and the destruction caused by the riots. But there was room for a book on how the political invades the personal. And fiction was the best way to go about doing it.
Most people remember 1984 for the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Yet so much more was assassinated then—friendship, trust, amity between communities built up over centuries… Hence the title ‘The Assassinations’.
Q. What do you think is the most difficult part of writing a book?
Choosing the right point of view from which to tell the story. The easiest thing to do is to write a novel from one perspective. Here I was writing a novel about two families from multiple perspectives. I had to get into the skin of a Hindu father, a Sikh father, a young Sikh man, a young Hindu woman…and try to do it in a way that neither perspective would be shortchanged.
Q. Which is your favourite genre of writing and why?
I would say literary fiction that has a sense of history. I tend to be interested in why we are the way we are and something like that gives a sense of that while telling a story.
Q. What mistakes did you commit past when you began your career as a writer that you don’t want others to commit?
As a writer I believed my job was done after publishing the book. It is not. Publishing the book is only the first step in the process. A lot more needs to be done to get it in the hands of enough readers.