“It was in the 1980s when I shifted base to Bombay, as it was called then. My routine included visiting several spots in the city, noting down every detail about those places,” writer Vivek Tandon pauses and perhaps waits for the obvious question: ‘What happened next?’ Tandon smiles and says: “I forgot about those notes for about 10 years till I stumbled upon them.”
The result of that stumbling was the drafts for Tandon’s recently-published novel A Blind Man’s Map of Mumbai. “In my novel, the city takes a central position, as the name suggests. And the descriptions of the places and the incidents mentioned (like the deluge of 2005) make the story more authentic,” the writer says.
But, why is it a blind man’s map? “Well, the central character is a blind street musician and the city unfolds through his descriptions,” he says. However for Tandon, “every individual is blind in some way or the other.” He hints at people’s ignorance about the places they live in, in this case the city of Mumbai. “Actually, the city is so dense, we become blind,” Tandon explains.
The story is told as a narrative. “The latest trend is to write fractured reality. I didn’t want to follow the trend. This is a straight story intertwined with history,” Tandon informs. The work is a thriller where a Mughal-era diamond-encrusted gold box holds the key to a mystery with several characters --- a world-famous art dealer, his snooty daughter, an influential politician and an astrologer --- get involved. “The characters represent the entire cross-section of the city populace that make up what Mumbai is today. And perceptions of the city vary from one class to the other. The character of Hafiz, for example, describes the city from a perspective that would definitely be different from the rest.”
With the change in the city’s name, the colours of the characters also got changed, admits Tandon. “At the initial phase, there were more of descriptions of the city and the characters were simpler and innocent. With Mumbai taking control, things in the story became less simple and less innocent,” he says. But on the whole, the city remains an “ideal place for human confluence --- a place of refuge for one and all.”
As for choosing to write a thriller, he says there is “dearth of thrillers written in English by Indian writers” that is set in India. So, the story begins with the narration of an incident that happens at Queen’s Necklace in Mumbai --- making it easier for the Indian readers relate to the story. “I don’t write anything keeping only the foreign readers in mind,” Tandon affirms.
To his credit, Tandon has a collection of poems titled Climbing the Spiral. In this context he mentions that the late poet Dom Moares had advised him to concentrate more on the novellas. “He, however, liked my poems and recommended to the publishers. That’s a different story,” the writer adds. But, besides poems and the novel, Tandon has penned plays also. One of his plays was selected by the Royal Court Theatre London’s prestigious International Residency Programme, Tandon informs.
How easy or difficult is it for him to transform from one creative genre to the other, I ask. “It’s been like an evolution for me as a writer. When I began writing poems, I wrote for myself. Gradually, I changed and realised that I need to reach out to a wider audience. Now, I write for the readers and myself as well,” he says. The change has also been “personal” for him, he adds.