Hindi writer Gaurav Solanki has published several poems and short stories, and has co-written the much talked about film, Article 15. He speaks to Mayank Jain about language and society.
Q. When did you start out as a writer and what made you choose writing as your career?
A. I began unknowingly, in 11th standard, when writing became for me a way of expression. But I never thought of pursuing writing as a career. In fact, I wanted to be an actor, because I love movies. But I was good at studies and as you know, a typical middle-class family lives with much insecurity and uncertainty about life and career. I had cleared the IIT entrance exam. This was a big achievement. So writing was not a conscious choice. I went to IIT Roorkee. There, I started taking writing seriously. I wrote some short stories. Initially, most of them were amateurish. My first story was inspired by Guru Dutt’s movie,Pyasa.
I think writing was in my personality. I have been a very sensitive person since childhood and something of a loner, too. I used to read a lot as well. I had read Sarat Chandra and Premchand at a very young age.
Q. Was there any specific influence that impelled you to write?
A. No, not exactly. I was just fed up with the hypocrisies of our society. I wanted to write about relationships, about the unspoken violence in families—which is often ignored because it is emotional not physical. An angst and sadness about these realities impelled me to write. If you do not use this angst and sadness constructively, they are of no use.
Q. Didn’t your professional career in writing begin with journalism?
A. Yes, a news organisation contacted me regarding one of my stories that they wanted to publish. They’d seen it on my blog. They asked me about my interests. I told them that I wanted to write on films and they hired me. I did many stories for them… It was a good learning experience.
Q. Is it true that your 2018 short story collection,Gyarahvi A Ke Ladke(The Boys of 11-A), was initially attacked by some people who levelled the charge of obscenity against it?
A. I got the Bharatiya Jnanpeeth Navlekhan Award [for his poetry collection Sau Saal Fida, in 2012]. Jnanpeeth also recommended that my previous book, Gyarahvi A Ke Ladke, be published under its imprint. The book’s title at that time was Sooraj Kitna Kam. But Later on, they called me and said that they cannot publish my book since they were getting letters from readers telling them that the book is obscene. I then decided to refuse to accept the Navlekhan Award.
Q. Tell us about your switch from writing books to writing films. As you know, composing literature is a more private act than writing film scripts, which is collaborative. So what prompted you to venture into cinema?
A. I thought films are a bigger medium with which I can say what I want to say, where I can connect with the masses. I began with lyrics writing. I think right now, there are a few very good lyricists working in Bollywood… I tried to connect poetry with song lyrics, but lyrics writing, I found, has a lot of limitations. So I wanted to shift to script writing. And soon enough I got a chance to write movies.
Q. How did Article 15 happen?
A. Sudhir Mishra introduced me to Anubhav Sinha [co-writer and director, Article 15]. Sudhir and I were working on a web series, which did not come through. Anubhav was busy in the postproduction of Mulkat that time. He asked me for my views on Mulk. We had many discussions about it… I wrote a part of Mulk.
Then, sometime later, Anubhav came to me with a script. He had written something on caste. I liked it but it was somewhat incomplete. I told him that we should rewrite it differently and he consented. That’s how we started writing Article 15. During the process of writing, we came across many characters—some were Dalits who believed in the caste system, some Brahmins, who opposed the caste system, and vice versa.
Q. One thing which is often observed in such stories is that the hero is mostly an upper-caste privileged man. If you look at some Victorian women writers in England, you’d find that they weaved their stories around an imaginary Byronic man as a saviour and emancipator. And they were criticised for that. How do you see that in the context of your movie?
A. Actually, there is no saviour in our movie. Our protagonist has his drawbacks. It is also true that we did think about making our protagonist a woman, which was indeed a very interesting idea. But we wanted to talk to the urban youth. Therefore we required a man who is entitled and privileged.
We wanted to talk to those people who believe that the caste system has vanished and that’s why they oppose reservation. They are not conscious of their privileges because nobody discriminates against them. Our protagonist, Ayan, is thus privileged and entitled… He is sensitive and knows many things but he is indifferent to them. So he in a way represents the typical middle-class youth.
Q. Are working on your next book?
A. Yes, I am writing another book of short stories, called Barahwi A Ki Ladkiyan [The Girls of 12-A]. It is a collection that explores themes like religious identity, sexuality and middle-class hypocrisies…
Q. We do not find many authors in Hindi who talk about sexuality the way you do. Why is that?
A. In our society sex is considered a taboo. We are not allowed to talk about the act by which we are born. I feel that, we live with a lot of confusion in our minds about sex, companionship, love and relationships. Our identity is influenced by how we get involved in these acts.
Q. What are your views on Hindi as a language, about how it has evolved and where it is headed?
A. Hindi as a language is now better positioned than ever. If you observe, there are two language waves in our country. One, of English, which was brought by the British. There is an elite circle, which is perpetuating that wave. These elites do not allow people who speak vernacular languages to enter their circles. Ironically, many of them claim to be liberals… They write on Twitter, in newspapers about people whose language they look down upon and with whom they don’t have any connect. although they wield a lot of power, because our system allows them to. They are the new Brahmins.
The second language wave, of Hindi, is the result of large-scale migration that happened over the last 20 years. These small-town people, who have migrated to big cities, have become very assertive with the coming of the Internet. As a result, you see a systematic change in Bollywood, art, advertising and so on.
As a Hindi writer I am hopeful about this change, but I am also slightly concerned because Hindi is behaving in relation to other languages in exactly the same manner as English does in relation to Hindi.