HYDERABAD: The book ‘Fire Under Ash’, written by Delhi-based Saskya Jain was launched in the city. The author tells us how her multiple identity helped her in penning this book
Genesis of the story
When I started writing, I was thinking about the city I grew up in; Delhi and how the generation has changed over a period of time I grew up there. There is a generation that is old enough to remember the time before Doordarshan, that co-exists with today’s generation. I was young enough to absorb the change naturally. With such opportunities and possibilities, Delhi changed very rapidly and very few cities change at this pace. I think for me, it was a lot about the change and what that change meant to different people.
For the middle class and above, the change was quite optimistic. Life has become easier and more accessible but when you look at the society, a certain section of people is not often talked about in spite of rapid change. Now, there was even more dependance on global economies and financial network and Delhi is one such city which is so uniquely characterised by networks and connections. One of the ways you lack these connections is if you are an outsider living in Delhi and life can be extremely difficult; so for me, that is the genesis. The idea of bringing together two different people who are equally ambitious and good intentions is how I designed my characters. It is very much about Delhi in this moment.
College as an ambience
When I started writing the book, I was staying on the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) where my parents were teaching. I was inspired by the stories that I was hearing from the students and friends that I made. JNU is a melting pot of talent and people come from across the country. The first scene and the beginning of the book I wrote was inspired by JNU setting. I started writing this book before I applied for Boston for a degree and I finished the book in about 4 years. Every place has a new attraction and that is what inspired me the most.
For instance, I observed a lot of Biharis in Patna and I did write about them. I revised my novel a number of times and magic happens when you re-read your story and try editing the elements of your story.
All the characters in the book are very close to my heart. I mean the feeling of being an outsider in Delhi even though I grew up there can be related to the characters. You know you are at home but you don’t fit in a place which is how I feel about Delhi as well because I have been brought up under specific circumstances and my experience of Delhi is quite different For instance, my father was working for a museum which belongs to the government but he was not a government servant while my mother is German. So, I had to relate to two different identities. A lot of my experiences are reflected in these characters and now I look back and appreciate that exposure and you need that insider-outsider perspective that is very conducive to writing because it enables you to observe and to be a part of something at the same time. You get a bird’s eye perspective and enables you to get a slightly bigger picture.
The title Fire under Ash is my own. It is actually the faith I had in my book something that is calm on the surface but that is growing underneath; something I can relate to the growth in Delhi and there is a lot in Delhi that is under the surface and not sustainable and will erupt at some point of time. The nature of the ash and how is it going to erput is all my story about. I could also relate the title to the beauty and brutality of Delhi. The nick name of one of characters Ashwin is also Ash.
Tips for budding writers
Writing in English on contemporary Delhi that has changed so much in a decade itself motivated me to write the story. I wake up early and write everyday. The secret behind good writing is to write everyday. One has to keep at writing and revise it and that is how you improve your writing. It is just the time you spend on writing that matters the most.