Thursday, August 23, 2012

An Interview with M.C. Raj by Vidya Bhushan Rawat

In Interview with Author M.C.Raj by Vidya Bhushan Rawat

MC Raj is a prolific writer and perhaps the most innovative writers in the recent history whose horizon of thoughts is extraordinarily beyond cosmos. He has developed new perceptions as he refuses to follow any set pattern of ideologies. He has in fact reconstructed some new thoughts like Dalitology, Dalithink and Dyche. Interestingly, M.C.Raj is not just writing reams of papers for the sake of writing. His writing emerges from his vast range of ground experience working with people and at Booshakthi Kendra, which has become a pilgrim centre for a number of activists working at grassroots as well as developing new perceptions on electoral systems world over. One is amazed at his capacity to write so much without affecting his intensive engagement of the larger societal structures. His latest novel ‘Operation Liquidus’ is sensational, as it has all the important characters in it that have a larger than life image in the hearts of their followers. Author Novelist M.C.Raj spoke to Vidya Bhushan Rawat about his latest novel and future enterprises.

VBR : It is your 18th book and perhaps the fourth novel. Your other books were mostly analytical writings, theorisation of Dalit culture. Now, for the past two years, we have seen a steady growth of fiction writing from you. Are you now focusing more on fiction than theorisation or do you think your fictions themselves are extensions of your theories?

Raj: Fictions are a way of letting loose the bridles of imagination. If a fiction has boundaries it may lose the flavour of fiction to that extent. I have taken up to fiction writing only because I enjoy it and not much beyond that. However, when I write fiction it is impossible for me not to theorize as I am basically a philosopher and that shows up even if I do not mean it. I have maintained the intensity of writing theory books along with my fiction writing. In 2011 Jyothi and I wrote the book on World Parliament of Indigenous Peoples and this year I have written the book on Electoral Systems. Writing any book is a passion for me and I do not give up one for another.

VBR: What is the idea behind the murder of the Pope in this novel? Is it a real life incident when attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II was made or is it purely fictional? Many time fictional works reveal real life stories even when they are claimed fictional. How do you think Catholics would react to it?

Raj: In this novel the Pope is poisoned by a group of Cardinals in the church. I have read the many volumes of the History of the Popes and have also studied Church history. Some of the happenings in the church are just horrible. My concoction of the killing of the pope is just an imagination of how financial stakeholders work in the church. The Vatican itself has many business connections and is a financial empire. The intricacies of business are the same all over the world. There have been also speculations about the death of Pope John Paul I. But I am not going into the truth or non-truth of what has happened in the Vatican. My mind has played with the gleanings I gathered from my readings on the underbelly of the Church. I always thought that if Jesus came a second time to this world the Pope, Cardinals and Bishops would be the first set of people who would murder him. Perhaps Operation Liquidus has woven a story from many possibilities. As for Catholics, it is left to them to react in a way they deem fit. I have no guess on that.

VBR: More than killing of the Pope by a group of Cardinals, it may be your audacity to have got Jesus married to two Muslim women that may shake the conscience of the Christian world. The Catholic Church does not allow its priests and nuns to marry precisely because of its negative views on sex. On this score I think even the protestant Christians will be scandalized by your ‘fictitious imagination’ of Jesus marrying two Muslim women in his second coming. Is this for this that the Christian world waited? Your take on this.

Raj: The second coming of Jesus may mean many things to many people. For me Christians are only chasing a mirage by waiting for his second coming. This novel is a way of looking at a young man Jesus who was in love with two young girls in the Bible. I have stretched that a bit in my novel. He may come as a gay, as a married man, as a man who wants to bring Christian Muslim unity through his marriage… I don’t know. Sex is a normal human behaviour. I don’t know why people should be scandalized by a fiction. Just as believers have freedom to fantasize on next life, a novelist enjoys the freedom to fantasize on this life. I have also imagined a lot about love that can never be limited by the paradigm of one man – one woman only. In any case most women in the Churches believe that Jesus is their ultimate lover. Some scandals are good for the progress of humanity.

VBR: Speaking of audacity, I also am dazed that you dared to equate Jesus and Karl. I am sure it is Karl Marx that you mean. In fact you have stuffed your novel with meaning by making Karl die when Cardinals make an attempt on the life of Jesus. What is your equation of both?

Raj: In one of the international conferences in Bad Boll in Germany I told the audience that Jesus was the first Marx and Marx was the second Christ. It was a Theology institute. The audience took it very well. One does not need extraordinary courage to say this. Both these have lived at different times in history. If they happen to live in our times I am sure they will be identical twins. I have equal admiration for both.

VBR: I am amazed at the numbers of characters that form part of your fiction and their co-relations. They trot globally and then merge at the Booshakthi Kendra. But I am sure a large number of these characters are part of your life. Have you ever spoken to them that they are part of your fictions? As far as I know in your earlier novel Raachi too, there are characters that have been close to you. I mean how they react to you once they read your work.

Raj: No character in this novel, except the last one in Booshakthi Kendra is part of my life. Only in Raachi I have brought some real characters in a fictional style of writing. This is because Raachi is based on my life. I decided to mix some truth with some fiction. But all my other fictions are not related to any real persons whom I know. I myself do not know the actual existence of the characters that I have created. But as you say many readers who know me personally have always tried to relate the characters of my novel to people who are related to me. I feel this is the success of my novel writing that readers always feel something real is happening around them when they read my fictional fabrications. As a fiction writer I know the value of such connections in the mind of the readers. Am happy to know that my fictions bring a sense of realism in the readers. All the characters of Operation Liquidus are not converging in Booshakthi Kendra. After the assassination of Kris, who is Jesus, by a group of cardinals it is only his two wives who come to Booshakthi Kendra. The global trotting is my attempt to bring some poetic and romantic dimension in my novel. Since I am an international traveller I bring all my discoveries of the world in my novels bit by bit.

VBR: Operation Liquidus is true to many things, which many of us could not do ideologically. I mean, it looks like an iconoclastic fiction where most revered figures are dealt with albeit in fictitious ways. Christians may not issue death threats to you for ‘killing’ the Pope and for marrying Jesus with two Muslim women. But what about other important characters whom you have dealt with in this novel? How about the Gandhians, the Ambedkarites, the Buddhsits, even the RSS? You do not seem to have spared any power. Is there any message in your demystification of important personalities of our times?

Raj: The message is for the readers to glean. Though Operation Liquidus is a fiction its axis is the second coming of Jesus, for which all Christians all over the world are waiting. I have just turned round this idea and made him come in the form of Kris to encounter many icons of history and of our time. As an author I have used my daydreams to create many encounters with such icons. Some masks that some of them wore are bound to fall. Even waiting for the second coming of Jesus by Christians can be said to be a grand fiction and nothing more. I have made use of one historical imagination to create many fictitious possibilities. The encounters with the Pope, Rocky and Saul, Karmachand, Bhim Raj, Karl, the gay Mueller, Buddha, Thalai Mama, the two gladiators, the judge Sitamata etc. have provided the scope for unlimited fantasies. It is left to the readers to draw their own messages. As an author I have opened up the avenue for multiple messages. All these are obviously coupled with an idiosyncratic style of fiction writing.

VBR: Your description of Sabarmati is interesting. Do you think that western readers would ever mind Karmachand sleeping with naked girls, as that is entirely an individual affair? And why do the Indian followers do not react to it where sex is really a taboo? Why don’t Indian mates in the ashram revolt against Karmachand on his sexual demeanours?

Raj: Indulging in sex is not a taboo in India. Only talking about sex honestly is a taboo. Indians indulge in sex as much as or perhaps more than all others in the world, if you go by the sheer number of children India produces. It is the double standard that is attached to sex that is an issue. This particular scene of ‘experiment with truth’ is equated with naked girls. There are two strong reactions in the novel. One is from river Sabarmati and the other is from Mataji who is the wife of Karmachand. The crux of the issue is not one man sleeping with naked girls leaving his wife alone in the next room. It is his profession of making experiments with truth that is an issue. Linking one’s sex proclivities with truth and making it look sublime, is what the novel is dealing with. Why aren’t the Indian followers not reacting to it? Prospective readers may raise it. There are many subtleties in the creation of this scene and it will be good that I do not expose these now as the author of the novel. The readers must plunge themselves in these subtleties and come out fully drenched.

VBR: Do you think Dr Ambedkar regretted his decision to convert to Buddhism but did not want to acknowledge it, as it comes out clearly from the novel? Can you really say that the character Bhim Raj is not really Dr Ambedkar? This issue is the root of many controversies in Maharastra between Mahars and non-Mahar Dalits who might not have embraced Buddhism or followed Ambedkarism.

Raj: As a reader you have made your guess and I leave that freedom to you. Yes, the question of conversion to Buddhism is something that the hero of the novel confronts Dr. Bhim Raj with. If Bhim Raj had met Kris what would have happened is the height of fictional flavour. One has to read the novel to see how this particular engagement is constructed in the novel. I have no intention of going into the controversies between Mahars and non-Mahars. However, if this novel throws up further controversies on this issue it may also lead to healthier dialectics among them. Who knows? I must also admit that as an author my views are not completely segregated from what I write. An overflow of my personal viewpoints in the many pages of my novel is only natural and I am proud of such overflow. I also write with my emotions. Therefore, the emotive dimension of my personality will also have its reflections in my writings. Bhim Raj’s regret of his conversion to Buddhism is another fodder for fictional forays. What would he have done if he encountered Kris? This is what the novel dishes out.

VBR: You have very interestingly rebutted the theory of ‘Dooms Day’ for which everyone is waiting for their ‘God’ to arrive and ‘ save’ them from ‘sins’. Do you believe that the Church will ever allow any one to challenge the supremacy of the Pope? Was Kris assassinated because he was not really following the religious diktats and could have become a larger than life size himself endangering the very institution of church?

Raj: The question is whether religions and churches can survive without ‘sin’ and ‘salvation’. Just as Europeans keep kings and queens in their democracies they will keep Papacy as a symbol of European pride even if they are ‘enlightened’ atheists. Kris, the hero of the novel is not a Christian in the first place. If you read the novel carefully you will realize that Jesus has no religion in his second coming. He was assassinated not because he questioned the religious diktats or the articles of faith of the Church. He was assassinated by a group of powerful American Cardinals who could not stomach the fact that the Pope decided to revamp the finance system of Vatican. This was because Kris challenged the Pope on the Church’s priority for the poor and its identity with capitalists. The confrontation between capitalism and communism and the role of Kris in both are brought out with utmost subtlety in the novel. There was no fear in anyone that Kris would endanger the institution of the Church. The thread of the novel connects the reader to the financial interests of the Vatican.

VBR: And what is the symbolism in the end when Selvan turned the volume of his music loud saying ‘come back as Jesus, come back as Allah, come back as any one.’ For me it is the most interesting symbol to decry all these religious beliefs, which actually put people into blind faith. Is that what you call Cosmosity in one of your books? It is not superfluous but is based on human relationship with nature. Is it the culture of Dalits that they should not wait for any messiah to lift them up and believe in their own power and draw their energy from nature?

Raj: The novel actually ends with the assertion that Jesus comes to the world many times again and again. It is only that people do not recognize him, as it also happens in this novel till the last minute. He may come back in any form. Not only he but also all ancestors come back into the world. He asserts that he is not God but is just a human being. The cosmic world, culture of Dalits and all other such things do not belong to this novel. I have written about them in my books of philosophy. Since you have read my other books you are naturally connecting the end to those books. However, the desire in me to see a world that will be free of all conflicts, violence and war may have found a natural reflection in the song from ‘Colonial Cousins.’

VBR: What are your future plans as a novelist? What is the biggest dream that you have as a writer? Though most of the novels have autobiographical elements in them, are you planning any formal autobiography in near future?

Raj: Whenever I write a novel I discover myself more. I write novels for the pleasure of self-discovery and for enjoying the liberty of expressing myself without inhibitions. Being a Dalit, such freedom was not available to me till I gained some sort of a status in society. Now that I have the leverage to express myself I make the best use of it. The eternal rebel in me may make fiction and style unpalatable for many. But I am proud of what I am, what I say and how I write. Apart from this I have no big dream in writing novels. I have many dreams in life and work for realizing them. That is a different arena altogether. My novel Raachi is a sort of biography of mine to some extent. My other novels do not have such autobiographical components. It is only that many readers who know me personally try to identify elements of my novel and connect them to my life and personality. That may be unfortunate but it may also be unavoidable. But then, every author somehow brings himself/herself out in the novels. I do acknowledge that my novels will have many such spill over. That is inevitable as a fiction writer. For the time being I am happy that I write my fictions without inhibitions. I enjoy the freedom. I do not plan an autobiography at the moment.