Its been six months now since ‘Sahyadris to Hindukush ‘ was published . People have been telling me its a good book , that they enjoyed reading . Nothing can be a bigger reward for me . My hard work of over two years has finally paid off !! And now , without doubt , onto the next one . This one is done and dusted . .
But to tell you the truth , I miss the journey . Yes having a book in your hands with your name printed on it is cool , but the beautiful journey to get there is something truly awesome . Of bringing alive peoples and places far away . Of bringing to life now derelict and abandoned monuments in your minds eye .Picturising long dead people as living entities like you and me . Of imagining and feeling their pain , defeat , triumph and victory , across this huge chasm of time and space .
I think I am being too hapazard here . Let me begin right from when I thought aboout this book .
I initially wanted to write pure fiction . An alternate history revolving around – what if the third battle of Panipat had not taken place ? What if the Marathas had continued their northward push ? They would have reached the Hindukush mountains , and again encountered fiercely independent tribes . Once again , just like their native Sahyadris , guerilla warfare , hit and run attacks , the works would have come into play . But researching the topic , I found that the spread of the Maratha and Afghan empires in the 18th century was a rather unknown story in itself . Little has been written regarding how the Marathas reached Attock and Cuttack . Even less so about the simultaneous rise of the Afghan persona Ahmed Shah Abdali .
Thus started the quest for finding information , assimilating it , taking notes and then converting it into a dialogue fit for a novel ! . A journey that took me from the basalt precipices of the Sahyadris in Maharashtra to the durbar at the Delhi . From the Shaniwarwada at Pune to the dusty fields of Awadh . I went through books and photos and tried recollecting my own visits to these places . I myself undertook the journey to a few of them . Back home , I could then paint a vivid enough picture of each setting . Going through books by British and Marathi authors alike , I tried my very best to imagine the personalities described – the Peshwa , the Mughal , Safdarjung . It was fun , trying to invent the entire personality . I could not just write – he was a cruel person . That cruelty had to be brought into the character . The circumstances that brought about his cruel deeds had to be painted . And above all , the place and time had to match . When people read about the Imad ul Mulk blinding the Mughal , they should imagine a tumultous Mughal court . A Delhi in chaos . I hope I have managed to achieve this . Only my readers are best placed to tell this .
All was fine as far as events in Maharashtra , Delhi , Nagpur and such places in India were concerned . My biggest challenge was bringing alive Pashtun culture . The Pakhtuns are a race situated on the Pak – Afghan border . To paint a convincing picture of Abdali and his Pathans , I felt the need to understand Pakhtun culture . The Pakhtun highlands , the rugged people . And therein was the hurdle .
I was apprehensive of chatting up Pakhtuns . Especially those of Pakistan . Marathi Brahmin befriends Pathans from Pakistan — huh — enough to give heart attacks to kattar panthis on both sides .
I was apprehensive , given the kind of mahol around us , that it all might be a waste of time . That I might receive a barrage of anti Hindu and anti India comments , and that would be it as far as my research concerning Pakhtuns went .
So for about 3 months I sat on it . While I tried to learn as much as I could via books written by British authors . These same British authors had also written books on Marathas and called them everything from thieves to pirates to looters etc . Supposing their assessment of Pakhtuns was also wrong ?
So I thought , what the heck . I got on to the border less world on the internet and asked my doubts regarding Pakhtun culture , history , Pakhtunwali etc .
To my surprise , I was received with the utmost politeness . No random comments against India or Hindusim . Yes our opinions differed , but never did the tone go out of hand . The Pashtuns have a code of conduct – Pashtunwali – in which Melmastia or hospitality is number one . I believe I saw the internet version of it . Hope to see the real version some day .
After that , I engaged in long discussions regarding Pathans , Pakhtun history n culture . I cross checked my descriptions of the Khyber Pass and Peshawar and Kabul with people who had actually been to those places ! It all helped to give my novel that ‘authentic ‘look . With their help , I could insert Pashto dialogues in my book , which brought say a scene at the Qissa Qahani Bazaar alive ; apart from making the book truly unique .
All this obviously led to my being friends with other Pakistanis and Afghans too and today I can safely say that a few of my best online friends are from Pakistan . I do hope I get to see them in person some day .
Another reason was that I wanted to produce a balanced work . Pro Maratha but not religious fiction . Pro Hindu but not based on sectarian bashing of the other . The days I spent with my Pathan friends helped me produce this balanced world view .
Perhaps I ran into exceptions ! Who knows !! But for sure I have stopped stereotyping the entire country .
And so the pieces started falling into place . The basic structure of the book was ready . Many of the pieces had been filled in . I would take my raw manuscript and go over again and again , reminscing of those times .
It had been a worthwhile journey , I had put myself in the saddle of an ordinary Maratha soldier when their armies swept across India . I was the proverbial fly on the wall when politics of intrigue played out in Delhi and Kandahar and Pune and Satara . And I became a traveller who travelled as best as he could to the hallowed lands of the Khyber . It was a journey worth undertaking .
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