Bengaluru: Nayantara Sahgal was only a child when she caught her first glimpse of Mahatma Gandhi. She describes the experience later, saying, "He was a skinny old man, crouched on the ground." The microphones wouldn't work and his voice struggled to carry to his audiences. "Still, it was Gandhi who shook an empire," argues Sahgal, whose 1985 novel Rich Like Us fetched her a Sahitya Akademi award (which was duly returned during the Awards Wapsi in 2015). Sahgal discussed her latest book, The Moon Shines By Day, with author Githa Hariharan at an event broadcast live on Facebook on Monday afternoon. “The struggle for freedom went across religion, language and caste.”
Disquietingly dystopian, the protagonist, Rehana, finds her father's books on medieval history have "disappeared" from bookstores. Presiding over affairs is the Director of Cultural Transformation, whose affable exterior hides ambitions of a Hindu master race. A German character in the book draws attention to this - "It's based partly on the formation of the Hindu Mahasabha, the RSS’ predecessor." B.S. Moonje, a Hindu Mahasabha leader, visited Mussolini in Italy and was told "children had to be raised in preparation for war. This was similar to the ethnic cleansing taking place in Germany and the formation of a master race of Aryans."
When The Moon Shines By Day is a perturbing wake-up call of India's transformation - "In 1975, we had a clear dictatorship. Today's situation is worse because we're under the guise of a democracy but the travesties are far worse - mob lynchings, murders in view of the police. Writers and journalists are being hounded but we're going to do what we have always done. These are our rights as Indians and we will not give them up quietly.