Quantum physics and alternative reality are both perspectives that can change the course of one’s life. And Lt. Col. John Gautam Gopalan, the author of the recently released Hastinapur, looked beyond what most mortals would accept, to question stories that have their place in history – in this instance, the Mahabharata. And his new book is all about that premise, who’s story is the truth? For the Sherwood College boy, Hastinapur was an endeavour to look for answers to those irking questions in history. “Hastinapur by Notion Press is a self-published book, and my beginning of a quest to find answers to nagging questions – there is a possibility of an alternative reality and we need to question an infinite amount of things instead of accepting them at face value,” says the St Josephs College graduate who went on to the Indian Military Academy to be honed into the exemplary Army officer that he was.
He looks back at his childhood with a gentle smile, “My father was an army officer, and but I had it a little different – I was at a boarding school in Nainital, Sherwood College. The school has its list of notable alumni like Amitabh Bachchan, Kabir Bedi. I was most inspired by Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Major Som Nath Sharma (India’s first Param Vir Chakra).”
Hastinapur, incidentally, is the Mahabharata retold, with one arc looking into the Kauravas’ perspective, and another looking into what the nature of myth is. Controversial, though it is, John is unrepentant. “I tried reading Sanskrit texts but was limited by my proficiency in Sanskrit. I then read two translations – by Kisari Mohan Ganguli and by C Rajgopalchari. Various other versions added twists. There is a Bhil Mahabharata, there is another in South India. There were debates questioning the obvious anomalies. Why didn’t we take this further? We are talking about the largest epic in existence,” he mulls.
An assignment during his Army days flummoxed him too. “The major change in my thought process came when I was posted in Ladakh during and post the Kargil War. It began with a visit to the Hemis Monastery at Karu in Ladakh – I discovered that in the monastery records there was a mention of a man called Issa who was a student there – the world knows him as Jesus Christ. I wondered why the Bible was silent on this phase of Jesus’s life. It got me thinking about how there are so many distortions we accept as truth,” he says.
This exploration into the nature of texts became an obsession for the guy who has commandeered many a platoon and has a storehouse of knowledge about an India very few have seen, or heard. A tad idealistic, the Army changed his life irrevocably, “My time in the Army was wonderful. I believe it is by far the best organisation that exists in India, and it is a pity that so many people cannot savour such an experience. A soldier best understands the value of life. During duress, the interdependency on another person for your life is unfathomable unless experienced first-hand,” says the Lt. Col. who has since resigned, and can be seen riding his bullet on open roads.
Gradually Gautam began questioning an infinite amount of things. “The aim was a quest to find answers to nagging questions that seem to stare at you. The possibility that everything that we have been indoctrinated to accept might not be reality,” he adds. And this is where Hastinapur, albeit a work of fiction, explores the other side of myth so well, in succinct and deep prose.
The author who feels that the trend of mythological fiction is pertinent to learning about true India, loves his alone time. “I am a single father with a teenage daughter, Zephorah. I dabble in gardening with my bonsai collection and am an amateur painter. Reliving the experience of Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance is a therapeutic experience,” he adds.
About his inspiration, he is the bete noire of what people regard as true, “I get my inspiration from the universe. I believe that an alternate reality exists and even if most people refuse to acknowledge it, I cannot ignore it.”...