Literature, Left & Lost Compassion

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The main characters of his novel, Lord Spider and JL Pillai, are an attempt at changing “the ideas about patriotism, love, compassion — all the things we take for granted,” Zacharia says.
Left is dead. Whether it is Rahul Gandhi or (Narendra) Modi, the Left has lost its chance in India. They should have grabbed the opportunity in the ’50s. Once they tasted the fruit of power, they became lazy,” said Paul Zacharia at the launch of his book A Secret History of Compassion (Context) in New Delhi on Friday evening.

“I grew up a Left person,” said Zacharia, 73, adding, “In 1957 Kerala, it was the world’s first Communist government to be elected. It filled the air with fantastic new ideas, poetry, songs, drama, novels, plays. I don’t think that kind of renaissance by the Communist party happened anywhere in the world.” He further said, “Congress isn’t much different in terms of being anti-democratic, anti-secular. We were never in a good place in the last 60-70 years. Even the politicians we entrusted are crooked.”

The main characters of his novel, Lord Spider and JL Pillai, are an attempt at changing “the ideas about patriotism, love, compassion — all the things we take for granted,” he says. Years ago, this novel began life as a chapter in Malayalam on a little boy growing up in Communist Kerala, but the story changed eventually. That story he’s still writing in his mother tongue.

“More than a foray into English, the foray was into writing a large novel,” said the Malayalam novella, short story and essay writer about his first novel in English and his longest piece of fiction, which was brewing for 12 years but was written over six months. Editor Karthika VK, who, according to Zacharia, hacked some 40,000 words, said, “The original was about twice the size.”

The conversation, moderated by independent journalist Aditya Mani Jha, with historian Romila Thapar and poet K Satchidanandan, also had Karthika recount an episode when Zacharia was engrossed in reading aloud from his book while poet-lyricist Javed Akthar, sharing the stage, was whistling and tapping his fingers. “Javed was irritated because his fans weren’t responding properly. In fact, I didn’t exist for him,” said the good-humoured Zacharia.

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