In times of lynchings, death of journalists and death threats to those who raise a voice against the authorities, author Nayantara Sahgal comes up with her latest novel When the Moon Shines By Day — a dystopian satire on the current political scenario of our country. Expressing discontent with the state of things and making a strong statement is something she has never shied away from. She had returned her Sahitya Akademi Award to protest against the killing of rationalists M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar and the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq on the charge of storing beef, inspiring many writers and poets to return their awards and this had started a new debate on freedom of thought and expression.
Highlighting political issues in the book through conversations between four women who meet regularly for their book club, the author elaborates on the relevance of art historically, culturally and politically. She says, “All my novels have been about the times we are living in. Most of my fiction work has been about a political aspect of these times and each one of them has added up to an understanding of the making of modern India. This one however, can be a little different because there’s been a big change in our political scene. This one is about the unmaking of modern India.”
When the Moon Shines by Day by Nayantara Sahgal Rs 399, pp 168 Speaking Tiger Books
She elaborates, “We are now under a government that doesn’t believe in a secular democratic India. It believes in a Hindu rashtra and that is a big change for the country. It has affected many ordinary lives as well. This political situation that we are under, does not accept disagreement. We have seen what happens to people who disagree. These people are from all walks of life, be it artists, writers or even the common people who are just doing their job. For instance, people transporting their own cattle can be beaten up and mob lynched. Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched because of a rumour that he had been keeping beef in his house. All these things have been happening to people who disagree and it is a very violent and terrible situation.”
Talking about the current state of freedom of expression in the country, Nayantara mentions how difficult and frustrating it is for artistes, writers and authors to live in times when censorship is rampant. “I have brought out the aspect that art and literature are very important because without them, we would never know the truth. When an event is happening and a writer is writing about it, how would they survive under censorship? Art is a recollection of what’s happening. You have to see that it is the work of imagination. Long after the occurrence of an event, an artist can paint or write about it, that is why all dictatorships are a trade of art,” she says.
Her previous novel, Rich Like Us, which won her the Sahitya Akademi Award, was set against the backdrop of the Emergency in 1975. So is this book a continuation of that? “This book is not a continuation of Rich Like Us. The only connection between these two is that both were stories about authoritarian rule. When The Moon Shines by Day has the growing authoritarianism that we are now living under as its background,” she clarifies. About four women being at the center of the book, she says, “There is a lot about women in the book. The story is partly about these four women who meet and discuss books and their reactions to what they read. They are all independent-minded women who have been bought up to be independent. Their independence is revealed in their reactions to what they read,” she says.
Asked about the research that went into penning the book, she smiles and says, “Research? I never do any research. It is all in my head. A novel is just a story. All stories begin by being based on reality. They transform in the telling when you are writing fiction. As an author, I want readers to enjoy this book. The story is just a story. If it makes the readers laugh, or cry, or begin with a thought process, then it’s a good story.” Asked if she enjoys fiction more than non-fiction, she says, “Fiction is my love and non-fiction is my conscience. What has to be written in the way of articles, essays, comments, writing for newspapers, comes out of my conscience. But I love fiction and I do it because I have the urge to write and I love to write it and that is what I have done in my career.”