|Biman Nath discusses his book at Starmark, South City Mall
Born in Assam, educated in Delhi and Maryland, US, Biman Nath is an astrophysicist at the Raman Research Institute, Bangalore. He is also a writer of historical fiction, and his second novel The Tattooed Fakir was recently published by Pan Macmillan India [Rs 299].
Set in British India, The Tattooed Fakir begins when a young woman, Roshanara, is kidnapped by a zamindar and then taken as a mistress by the British owner of a plantation. Her husband, Asif, pines for her but can do little to get Roshanara back. Defeated and vengeful, Asif joins a band of rebel fakirs led by Majnu Shah as his only hope of reuniting with his wife. Years later, in a rescue mission, he ends up meeting not Roshanara but her son Roshan, who’s grown up and become not just a ferocious soldier but the “tattooed fakir.”
t2 caught up with the author on the sidelines of the novel’s Calcutta launch at Starmark, South City Mall.
Astrophysics to historical fiction — how did it happen?
It’s actually a coincidence that both my books (Nothing is Blue and The Tattooed Fakir) turned out to be historical fiction. But it wasn’t a choice just because it was in the past. I had to set it in a turbulent time: a turbulent socio-economic and political time to give it a dramatic backdrop. But I also think it’s not just about history alone, you’d find it relevant even if it was set in a more contemporary milieu.
What about the sanyasi/fakir movement fascinated you?
I had read (Bankimchandra’s) Anandamath and Devi Chaudhurani as a child. And as you know, it deals with the sanyasi revolution. There is some mention of the sanyasi revolution but nothing on the fakirs, so this is what got me thinking. Asif turns to them when he has nothing really to live for. He has nothing to lose and going back to the village where he had made a life with Roshanara is not an option for him. I also took some literary liberties. But it wasn’t just the fakirs but also the fact that an ‘indigo book’ hasn’t been written. I wanted to find out about it, not just the cruel conditions they worked in, but the process. How it was grown, how it was made, what it was like.
Your favourite historical writers?
In Bengali obviously Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. Then Barry Unsworth is a favourite and also Amitav Ghosh — his past books as well as the current books that are part of the Ibis trilogy.
Your favourite period in Indian history?
(Smiles) Probably the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857. As I said, I love drama.
Your book is broken into three parts and covers a large span of time — from when Asif is separated from his wife Roshanara to when her son grows up. Did you ever feel you could have written it as a trilogy?
Actually, no. I never thought about it, really. For me this was the organic form the story took. Just because it’s historical doesn’t mean it has to be a tome. Barry Unsworth, for example, wrote some very ‘thin’ books. Not that I’d ever consider myself in the same league.
Your next project? Will we see more historicals?
(Laughs) As difficult as it is to believe, no. It’s closer home. It’s about the academic world. But it’s still a work in process, so I don’t know much else.