It is a book that emerged from dejection, one that Ekarat had no plans to write. In the summer of 2016, he had abandoned a novel after three years of effort. “I was completely dejected. I needed providence to come into play — it did — in the form of love. I fell in love around the time I began writing The Book of Love (Speaking Tiger, Rs 250). It made my job that much easier, and the words and the stories flowed. When I completed the book, my love too had concluded,” says Ajay Khullar, who uses the pen name Ekarat, a name he took during his dark hours, ones that stayed with him and continues to inspire him.
The book is a collection of 11 contemporary love stories, which Khullar describes as a tribute to the pain, joys, and peculiarities of love in the 21st century. “Like you cannot plan to fall in love, I hadn’t really planned to write. The book is a portrait of the greyer shades of romance — funny, tender, violent and tragic,” says 40-year-old Khullar, whose first novel was The Nothing Man (Rupa, Rs 195).
With an English degree from DAV College, Chandigarh, and a post-graduation diploma from Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Khullar says that he has been writing since childhood, with both writing and storytelling giving him complete freedom and fulfillment. Currently working on a screenplay for a feature film, he has previously worked as an editor and communications lecturer.
The Book of Love, took a year to complete. Khullar says that the stories reflect the many colours and faces of love. He believes if we move away from the mush of romantic factory productions, in literature as well as cinema, we usually find ourselves in the realm of heartache and heartbreak. “Happy endings give you a high, but fade quickly. Real love stories, whatever the ending, are nostalgic, their memory haunting, like your first love. A love story need not be tragic or sad, it could be as strange or funny as life sometimes is, but it must be relatable. The vision and effort of this book has been to tell such stories,” says Khullar.
When a chance encounter turns into a date, will protagonists Ajay and Priya give love a chance, despite their broken hearts? Subhash, 59, tries to find a lover from 30 years ago, not knowing her last name, by sharing their story on a radio show. Radha and Kabir sneak away from a hospital for a night in the town, before fate wrenches them apart forever. Love, says Khullar, will always live, but the way we love changes fast.
Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, falling in love was a full-time job, it was the deal, he reflects. “Now we’re the serial dating generation and it’s as though we find time for love only after everything else is taken care of. Many of us seek instant gratification and who’s to say whether this kind of love is real or not — whatever your belief. The truth is I’m a storyteller and not an authority on love. I’ve had my heart broken too many times, but then I still believe in love, completely. I am love’s fool, always will be,” says Khullar.