An Interview with Rajesh Talwar

Rajesh Talwar has written thirty-seven books, which include novels, children’s books, plays, self-help books, and non-fiction books covering issues in social justice, culture, and law His novels include Simran, on aesthetics, and Inglistan, on cultural contrasts. An Afghan Winter and The Sentimental Terrorist explore the theme of terrorism. How to Kill a Billionaire reveals the workings of the Indian justice system. From the Lips of the Goddess – Mata Vaishno Devi is on the sacred feminine.

Rajesh’s plays cover diverse contemporary themes and historical retellings. They include Inside Gayland, The Bride Who Would Not Burn, Conquest at Noon, The Killings in November, Kaash Kashmir, Aurangzeb: The Darkness in His Heart, Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Four-Legged Scorpion, High Fidelity Transmission, and A Nuclear Matricide.

His non-fiction works include The Judiciary on Trial, Courting Injustice: The Nirbhaya Case and Its Aftermath, The Third Sex and Human Rights, The Vanishing of Subhash Bose, The Killing of Aarushi and the Murder of Justice. Self-help books include How to Choose Your Lawyer and Win Your Case, Making Your Own Will, The Divorce Handbook, and Indian Laws of E-business.

His books for children include The Three Greens, The Bearded Prince, The Sleepless Beauty, Fabulous Four Battle Zoozoo, the Wizard, Playwrights- A One-Act Play for Children on Human Rights, The Boy Who Wrote a Constitution, and most recently The Boy Who Became a Mahatma. He has contributed to The Economic Times, The Guardian (UK), The Daily Guardian, The Pioneer, The Times of India, Manushi, The Sunday Mail and the New Indian Express. He is a sought-after speaker at Literary Festivals. He has a Wikipedia page and can be followed on Insta and Facebook where he has nearly fifty thousand followers. Rajesh works as Deputy Legal Adviser to the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan.


(The Literature Today): I would like to begin by congratulating you on the publication of “The Boy Who Fought an Empire.” How has the response to the book been so far?

Rajesh Talwar: The response has been excellent thus far, from across the country but more especially from West Bengal.  I suppose this is the advantage in doing a series. As you know this is the third book in a drama series on our freedom fighters. The first was on Dr BR Ambedkar titled ‘The Boy Who Wrote a Constitution’. That was a runaway hit, surprising even the publisher. Last year I published ‘The Boy Who Became a Mahatma,’ a self-explanatory title.

(The Literature Today): What led to the idea of writing “The Boy Who Fought an Empire”? Were there any events that inspired the work?

Rajesh Talwar: I wanted to write this book because unfortunately for many decades post-independence, Subhash Bose was largely side-lined or even completely ignored in our history books. It is only recently that he has started to receive his due place as a great patriot who sacrificed his all for the nation. In terms of recent events I suppose you could say that it has been revealed only in the last few years through seminal research by Madhusree Mukerjee that Bose did much to avert the terrible Bengal famine that caused millions of deaths. When I learnt about this and how Churchill ignored Netaji’s repeated requests to send rice from Burma to Bengal, it moved me greatly. This incident has been dramatized in my play.

(The Literature Today): How easy or difficult was it for you to decide the placement of ideas in “The Boy Who Fought an Empire” and keep it simple to understand for the readers?

Rajesh Talwar: It was a challenge to deal with the placement of ideas. I should mention here that it was also a challenge to select the right events to use from Bose’s life. I mean, he led such an action-packed life and straddled continents that it wasn’t easy to decide what to include and what to exclude. The third challenge, as you say, was to keep it simple for the readers. I didn’t want the reader to get bogged down in dates and unnecessary details.

(The Literature Today): What are your views about present-day writing? Do you think it does complete justice in depicting human nature in the light of “The Boy Who Fought an Empire”?

Rajesh Talwar: The problem is that our history books are written in an extremely dull and turgid fashion. At the time I read history in school and later at university it was practically unreadable. At one extreme you had just a list of dates and which ruler carried out which reforms; at the other extreme you had a Marxist kind of history that just spoke about historical processes. History has to be properly humanised in order to be imbibed and appreciated, and this has been my attempt in ‘The Boy Who Fought an Empire.’

(The Literature Today): “The Boy Who Fought an Empire” shows the uniqueness of your style of writing. Are there any authors that you enjoy reading or any books which are your favourites?

Rajesh Talwar: Thank you. That’s very kind. About my taste in reading I am a great admirer of the French. I grew up reading a lot of Maupassant and Proust. The Russian writers were also great. I loved Dostoevsky, Turgenev and Pushkin in particular. Among my favourite books there is ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey,’ by Oscar Wilde, another favourite author and ‘Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

(The Literature Today): How would you categorize “The Boy Who Fought an Empire” as its appeal seems to be to a broad audience?

Rajesh Talwar: You are right there. Although it is a play for children the appeal is much broader. Many adults don’t know our history that well because important players like Subhash Bose were ignored. That apart, the books themselves being written very badly. I know this may ruffle feathers but personally I have found Bipin Chandra and Romila Thapar, both eminent historians to be reader unfriendly in their writings. They write a very impersonal sanitized kind of history. I believe therefore that this book (and its two predecessors) will also appeal to college students and working professionals who don’t have the time to go through huge fact heavy tomes that may carry few insights.

(The Literature Today): “The Boy Who Fought an Empire” has given a powerful introduction to your potential as a writer. Can the readers expect more from you in the future? Please share about your future projects.

Rajesh Talwar: Once again thank you for your kind words. As you may know I have written nearly forty books across multiple genres. Despite this, it was only last year that I wrote my very first travelogue titled ‘Where Elephants Danced and Dragons Flew.’ It was also only last year that I published my first collection of short stories titled ‘Flesh Trade in Tokyo and Other Stories’. So, I would like to attempt a new genre in the future. Maybe a quasi-fictional book on a spiritual journey and a play for children on the Gita. Meanwhile my next book coming out this May is titled ‘Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge: The Past, Present and Future of Excellence in Education.’ It is also a book where I am also writing outside my comfort zone for although I have taught at university and studied at many institutions, education is not my specialty by any means.

(The Literature Today): What is the story behind the title of your work, “The Boy Who Fought an Empire”?

Rajesh Talwar: A young boy seeks meaning and purpose in his life. He is initially drawn to social work but soon realizes its limitations so long as India is under British rule. He gives up a lucrative career in the Indian Civil Service or ICS as it was then known to participate in national politics. Reforms are too slow for his impatient mind. Although the conventional view is that the British Empire is too powerful to be challenged, he determines to do so. He escapes from India under the nose of the CID and straddles the globe in search of allies even as he tries to raise an army to fight the British.  Eventually his efforts shake the very foundations of the empire.

(The Literature Today): Of all the modes of writing, what made you come up with the idea of writing in drama form in “The Boy Who Fought an Empire”?

Rajesh Talwar: I have written across genres including non-fiction, novels, short stories and plays. I thought the play format would specially resonate with young minds. We have few plays for children on contemporary subjects who therefore have no choice but to perform the same old plays year after year. Additionally, plays have an immediacy to them that other modes of writing lack. For all the above reasons I thought of writing this out in a play format. Incidentally the acclaimed American novelist Henry James predicted more than a hundred years ago that in the future plays would be read as much as they would be performed.

(The Literature Today): In the present time, the ideas in “The Boy Who Fought an Empire” do not find much mention. What, according to you, could be the possible reason for that?

Rajesh Talwar: Very poorly written history books are one possible reason. This is now changing but the process is slow. These days a lot of people have turned to podcasts but in my view, it is not the same as reading engagingly written and well researched books.

(The Literature Today): If you were to describe your book “The Boy Who Fought an Empire” in a few words without giving any spoilers, what would those words be?

Rajesh Talwar: A patriotic tale of heroic determination and sacrifice in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

(The Literature Today): What advice would you give to budding writers who may be planning to write in the same genre as “The Boy Who Fought an Empire”?

Rajesh Talwar: Four bits of advice. Firstly, be passionate about whatever it is you decide to write on. Know and understand the market but don’t be guided too much by what you think the market wants. Secondly, research your subject properly so that you come to know it well. Thirdly, don’t give up your day job. Fourthly, self-editing is hugely important. Polish your book to the extent possible before entrusting it to a professional editor.

(The Literature Today): Thank you very much for sparing your time. I look forward to

reading more books from you in the future. All the best.

Thank you for your kind words. Look forward to being in touch again.

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