‘Weaving fiction with reality needs intense research’
Braham Singh, author of recently-released book Bombay Swastika, tells us how he chooses the entire world to set his stories in
Author, technologist, and historian — Braham Singh dons too many hats. His recently released book, Bombay Swastika, is a crime thriller set in Mumbai during the 1950s-60s. It chronicles the city’s history through a plethora of painstakingly etched characters, exploring how the city welcomed and worked with folks of various religious denominations, foreigners, men and women of diverse Indian states without being aware that it was diversity at work.
“It took me almost two-and-a-half years to finish Bombay Swastika. The writing didn’t take much time, the research did. It took quite a lot of time,” he says, explaining, “The entire story is based on a real person. I actually knew someone — a German refugee (a Jewish) who came to the then Bombay and fell in love with a Sindhi refugee from Karachi. But his family didn’t want me to tell his story to the world and I was heartbroken. But soon enough, my imagination found wings and I decided to weave fiction with reality.”
As a chief product officer at a global telecommunications company, Braham Singh has written extensively on IT, but Bombay Swastika is his first fiction book. How did fiction writing happen to a techie? “The right question would be why did I take so long to start writing. I had so many stories in my head always. I think I was a coward by not initiating writing for all these years,” he answers.
Speaking of the research he undertook for Bombay Swastika, he says that he had to be very careful and do an enormous amount of research for the book since history had to be a part of the story. Citing an example, he says, the death of Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi had happened in a car on the streets. “I have mentioned that the protagonist’s family gets stuck in this traffic jam. There are also references to the Jewish hospital in Berlin and the Atomic Programme of Dr Homi Bhabha,” he explains.
The women, even when seemingly fragile, play critical parts in his book which involves an eclectic range of characters — the big Sardar, the Lambadi women working at the polluting fertiliser factories, the hot-headed communist Malayalee, Salim Ali, to the seemingly weak and enervated Jew, Ernst, the strong women, Anglo-Indian Beatrice, Schwester Ingrid, Bhairavi, the refugee girl making her presence felt, highly opinionated housekeeper Parvatibai, the crafty businessmen, the two-legged Gorilla, the North Eastern porcelain doll and more with their own unique back stories —which would interest a discerning reader.
Where does the name come from? “Oh, very simple. Swastika was the symbol of Nazism and also considered holy in Hinduism. So when this protagonist runs away from Germany to escape Nazi Swastika and falls in love with this girl in India, he finds her wearing a Swastika pendant around her neck,” he reveals.
Singh has also written a screenplay for Emperor, a political thriller set in Malaysia, based on the 1969 race riots. “It was actually a political thriller movie script about the only racial riots in Malaysia. However, owing to strict censorship there, only the crime bit of it was approved, the political bit was cut out. Hence, I chose to make it a book instead,” narrates Singh.
His third book, The Little Eunuch, is also in the pipeline. This one is set in China. It’s about the Terracotta Army and its warriors, Singh tells us. First Emperor Qin from whom China gets its name, had ordered the creation of this army of terracotta statues. “During excavations and research, it was found that most of these statues were castrated and so was a little eunuch. My story revolves around the why,” Singh elaborates.
Why did he choose these countries — Malaysia, China — for his stories?
“I have travelled extensively. And these countries are very close to my heart with a very interesting history to them. Hence I based my stories there,” he answers. Bu these are not all. His fourth book is going to be about an Indian-American girl falling in love with an American senator and getting killed when she comes back to India.
Classic example of globalisation, his writing is. “Oh yeah, it is,” Singh laughs.