The book Wanderers, All is an interesting mix of historical fiction, memoir and travelogue. How did it all come together?
I’ve always been fascinated by the Indian independence movement. During that period, Bombay was an amazing place to be in — politically and culturally. It was evolving: photography had come in, there was a thriving classical music scene and Marathi theatre was at its peak. My family came from the Konkan region and everyone was crazy about theatre and classical music. They even had an amateur theatre group. As an older grandchild, I saw them reliving that glorious time in Bombay, which was very different from my present. So the juxtaposition of the culture and evolution of the city interested me. Since I am a travel writer, the flavour of a travelogue also seeped in.
Murli Khedekar, the protagonist, migrates to Bombay to join a Marathi theatre group. Through the course of the book, he goes from being a clerk to a wrestler, and finally, a police officer.
I’m not one of those organised writers, who has a structure in mind. So after writing a few pages, I didn’t know what Murli would do. My great grandfather was a police superintendent. There were many stories of him having been spotted in an akhada, so that’s how the wrestling bit was woven in. And Marathi theatre was such an integral part of society then that every Maharashtrian family was influenced by it in some way. So, I had to bring that into the story.
How much research did it take to bring alive the pre-Independence era?
The novel was written over the course of five years, and a majority of my time was spent doing research. The Asiatic library is fantastic and there’s also the Mumbai University library. I was looking for specific books, and there are only so many on the Mumbai city police. Often, there would be only one copy in the library and someone hadn’t returned it so that slowed me down. Departments like the Maharashtra state archives have a wealth of information. I just wish it was maintained better and made accessible to the public.
You’ve written a host of short stories and dabble in travel writing. Was the transition to penning a novel easy?
With a short story, you write one and you can move on. Here, I was completely immersed in reliving that era. At one point, I thought I would end up writing a non-fiction because I couldn’t hope to imagine more than what was already there. While writing those bits, I had to take myself away from reality. I would go on heritage walks around Bombay on Sunday mornings when it wasn’t crowded. Edward theatre used to screen old silent films. I believe that if you look for it, you will find the past of a city. It’s just that the present tends to overwhelm it.