Q&A Minty Tejpal, Author And Journalist
HAVING worked in television, journalism and advertising, Minty Tejpal, 46, turns his attention to the institution of marriage as seen from a man’s perspective in his new novel, The Last Love Letter. He tells Shazia Nigar why marriage must be redefined in order to remain relevant to modern life.
EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
What was the motivation for writing this book?
I am twice divorced now with two children. The divorce proceedings were a painful and traumatic experience. I have friends across different professions and 90 percent of them today are separated or divorced. It is startling. I was the first child in my family to get divorced. My uncles and aunts have had problems, but they have stuck together. Times have changed. What happened in the new millennium? What happened to love? Where did we go wrong? I’m trying to explore that. Once a marriage starts cracking up, your whole social fabric is threatened. It’s a very scary sight for the country and we don’t realise that and hence the book.
What was the process of writing The Last Love Letter like?
The Last Love Letter was an extremely cathartic experience because I have based a work of fiction around events in my life. It was like a strenuous yoga session of six months, which cleansed my mind and body. It was painful and frustrating too. You have no idea about where you are going. Is it a highway? Is it a jungle? Is it a chasm? But I love it. I would do it all the time.
Was the use of the first-person narrative liberating?
I found it easy to transpose the characters’ emotional conflicts with mine and mix them up. I also wanted the tone of the book to be personal. I am not interested in making a large sociological comment. I am interested in telling stories that move and concern all of us. [These are] characters, situations and places I’ve observed, felt and heard. I am either the person involved or one person removed from the experiences in the book.
Why do you think someone should read this book?
Divorce is a malaise spreading across the country. We need to re-examine our concept of love and marriage. I’m saying, “Hey! You are married? The shit’s just begun! Unless you watch for pitfalls, it is going to end up messy.” As a single man, I am still okay; for a single woman, it’s terrible.
What guides the female protagonist through her transformation?
Somewhere, the fairytale romance of marriage wore off and the female character wanted her own identity. Female empowerment is good, but it has its issues. Sometimes, too much choice can be a problem. In Punjabi, there is a saying, “It’s good to give someone dal and roti. If you give them too much roti, they might get a stomach ache.” Men always had choices; for women, the choices have tripled today.
Why do your characters reach out to godmen or mystical sources?
That’s how we are in our country. How many million gods do we have? The common factor across the country is this presence. I have a very strong belief in energy and there is a lot of spiritual energy we haven’t tapped into. All these technological advances we make are not even a patch on what our spiritual advances could be like. I am very curious. I am the first person to step into a dark cave with a bear in there. I want to see whether it will hit me or kill me.
What is your take on the institution of marriage now?
Marriage is going to die in the next decade or so. Unless the whole definition of marriage changes dramatically, unless issues of responsibility and expectations are looked at in a more liberal manner, we are in for a rough time.