TO crack a writer’s block, Biren travels to Calcutta. But this unsuspecting journey soon turns into an obsessive journey of self-discovery entwined with the lives of unknown strangers into a web of relationships. Soon, for Biren, the journey turns into journey between living and dying, waking and dreaming, losing and finding, until he is drawn over the edge and falls into his real self. This is the crux of Randhir Khare’s new novel 'Over The Edge'. Published by Rupa, Khare calls this seven-and-half years in making novel a book about arrivals and departures… about finding when not searching, about arriving without even starting the journey.
A novel after a long time. But Khare, the writer, is never been less prolific. He is not sure whether ‘prolific’ is the right word. However, "Yes, I have been writing quite steadily." So, why the novel took so long? Was it a writer’s block, very much like his protagonist? Khare answers a firm no. He was not struggling with writing but "the narrative needed its own time and space to evolve." Khare explains how the earliest form of the novel was actually a dream notebook. "I had a habit of keeping a notebook on my bedside table and used to jot down the details of my dreams. These jottings were very impressionistic, very strong images and very vulnerable."
After the notebook was filled cover to cover, Khare began to respond to those images. "Whilst drawing these images, deeper ideas and feelings began creeping in. I put it away for a year or so. Later, I looked at it again and began to aesthetically refine the words and the language. In some cases, I developed the thoughts even further. By the time I had finished, the new dream notebook looked nothing like the original one. It had transcended the latter and had become, in its own way, a work of art, the beginning of the novel."
And this is what typifies Khare’s approach to writing. "I think it was Saul Bellow who compared his process of writing to that of an archaeologist. He starts digging and slowly uncovers an entire city."
Novels all right. But Randhir Khare is not your regular novelist. He is a writer first and foremost, experimenting in all forms of writing, from poetry to short stories, to travel writing to translation of tribal songs. It has been a long and varied literary journey, covering many genres and many aspects, from the realm of fantasy to the realism of the tribal world. How does he manage this transition from one facet of things from another, from one genre to another?
The answer comes immediately. "That’s the way I do it…" Then he explains. "My writing expresses my life, beliefs and preoccupations. I choose the genre by instinct, an instinct that has organically evolved over the years. The subjects I choose demand their own form - if I am to be honest I have to respond to those demands!"
This is the precise reason why Khare began to explore visual art and began to use pen and ink to express ways of perceiving and feeling that he could not articulate through words. Khare does not want to call himself an artist. But he’s an artist nonetheless. He has illustrated his own books, have had two solo exhibitions - in Pune and Mumbai - and had had my work in the collections of private collectors.
Apart from art, Randhir Khare has published 12 volumes of poetry, short fiction, novel and a futuristic fable. He is the recipient of Pegasus - the Union of Bulgarian Writers’ Gold Medal for Poetry and the Sanskriti Award for Creative Writing in India. And thus genre is not really an issue for him. "However varied the forms of writing may be, finally they all are an expression of certain core concerns: the life, struggle and dilemma of the outsider, the in-between and the social, cultural, intellectual and emotional minority - the one who shuttles between worlds or gets crushed when worlds collide."
The reason why Khare is fascinated by Anglo-Indian characters is a story of personal history. "I have written about Anglo-Indian characters and their lives because I understood (and still do) the community." His paternal grandfather (Raghubir Prasad Khare, to whom 'Over The Edge' is dedicated) belonged to a rich landowning family in Uttar Pradesh, a criminal lawyer who married Helen Yeats, the daughter of an Irish Indigo planter. Again, his maternal grandfather was an Englishman married to a Spanish lady.
For Khare this history is very important. Because, "this is me, this is what I am made up of. Though ‘technically’ I am not an Anglo-Indian, I nevertheless can understand their struggle to be accepted. They were (and are in some cases) the in-between ones who if they did not ‘integrate’ were either isolated or crushed when the eastern and western worlds collided in conflict. My concern was to tell their story as intimately and robustly as possible so that their lives were given a ‘human significance’ - beyond the stigmas that had been attached to them. Not only Anglo-Indian, but any kind of minorities, or in-between people, as Khare puts it, fascinate him. "The tragic and heroic struggle of in-between people has been happening everywhere, all over the world… I would place the tribal/traditional communities in India together with them. Not that they are a result of ‘obvious fusion’ but more because they are minority. This is the reason why I am so compelled to write about tribal realities."
Indian writers writing in English cannot really escape the ever-confusing debate over Indian Writing in English. For Khare, Indian Writing in English is alive and well. In fact, it’s robust. In this ‘ocean’ there’s enough room for all sorts of life to survive and flourish… We have our hermit crabs and our flying fish. So - cheers to that. May diversity survive!"
Randhir Khare currently teaches at Wadia College. However, this is only one of his many roles. He has been involved with various activities in various fields: from a poet, writer, to a teacher to activist… "All of the activities are my way of responding to life, of contributing to life (I don’t really care whether this contribution is acknowledged by others or not, this is not why I do these things!)," explains Khare. But it is his writings that his life experiences are articulated. "Writing for me is my way recording and clarifying… for myself and for others. I am a writer. First." But his work in education continues as does his contribution to tribal welfare. And he is already working on his new Book, called 'The White Cranes Of Sundargarh'. "It is a face off between destiny and individual choice," he explains.
Khare Ka Khazana
Selected Poems (Audio cassette)
Thirteen Poems (Poetry)
The Circle (Poetry)
Return To Mandhata (Selected Stories)
Swimming Into The Dark (Poems)
Notebook Of A Footsoldier (Stories)
Dangs: Journeys Into The Heartland (Travel/Social Documentation)
The Last Jungle On Earth (Fable)
The Singing Bow: Song Poems Of The Bhil (Translation)
‘Do Rats Have Rights?’ (Essays)
KUTCH, Triumph Of The Spirit (Travel/Social Documentation)
River Day (Poems)
Call Of The Blue Mountains (Essays)
Over The Edge (Novel)