About the Author
Colonel Ajay Singh served in the Indian Army for 28 years. Many of the events described in the book are based on personal experiences during his military career.
He is the author of the books, The Battles that Shaped Indian History (released in October 2011) and A Spectrum of Modern Warfare, (released May 2013) and is a renowned public speaker who speaks extensively at international seminars and forums.
Happily married, with one daughter, he has settled in Pune where he juggles his various pursuits. He is presently the CEO of an IT company based in Delhi.
Presenting a thought provoking interview with author Ajay Singh.
When did you get the inspiration to write this most unique book? Did you at that point of time realize that not many writers have managed to do what you as the author of Through Orphaned Eyes: A story of two people, two nations would be doing: writing in fiction form about the parallel histories of two very important nations of not only the Indian subcontinent but of the world?
Well, actually the idea of a story that unfolded the story of India just kind of popped into my mind while taking a jog around three years ago. The thought floated around my head for a while — then the idea of a Pakistani sibling and the story of Pakistan through his eyes came on. The plot then emerged as a story intertwining their two lives. The story germinated in my mind and then the first paragraph “I don’t know the exact year of my birth, but then I don’t think anyone does —” just popped into my head. After that the flow began. The story emerged, moving in different directions from the original thought process, many incidents and characters growing as the story went along, till it reached its final form.
The fact that it was a different kind of story did not really strike me. It was just a story to be told. And I am glad that people have read it, enjoyed it and in some way it has helped illuminate the story of the two nations from Independence to the present day.
When I picked up your book to read, I was most intrigued by the title of the book that is Through Orphaned Eyes. What inspired you to give your book this title? Don’t you think most people from both sides of the border would not like to think of their respective nations as being ‘orphans’ in this day & age?
The title ‘Through Orphaned Eyes’ is not so much to do with the fact that the two brothers were orphaned (In fact, they both find happy families to grow up in). It is more to do with the fact that both nations have been orphaned by their leadership which has prevented them from attaining their true potential. That is the central theme of the novel.
Can you please give my readers a brief synopsis of your book Through Orphaned Eyes?
The story begins in the trauma of Partition when the nameless hero is uprooted from his village near Lahore and stumbles into India on 15 Aug 1947, leaving behind his heavily pregnant mother who gives birth to his sibling on 14 Aug 1947 (Pakistan’s Independence Day). In India, the hero is adopted by his uncle, joins the army as a simple soldier, joins the corporate world later. In Pakistan, his brother Shahnawaz, is adopted by an Army officer and goes on to become the head of ISI.
Through their eyes we see the history of the two nations – the wars of 1947-48, 1965, 1971 and Kargil.We see India through its formative years, the dark days of Emergency, the attack on the Golden Temple, the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi and the anti-Sikh riots that followed, its economic success story and decline – and most of all the frustration the common Indian feels with a corrupt and self-serving political leadership.
In Pakistan we see the wars with India, their support of the Afghan Mujahidin and how they were used in Kashmir. How the same Islamic militants turned against them and now threaten to destroy the state is the theme on the Pakistani side.
The intertwining of their two lives through epochal events in history forms the central story line of the book.
Don’t you at times find it difficult to give a synopsis of your book to readers? Don’t you at times find that there are so many different angles in looking at Through Orphaned Eyes that you really don’t know what your synopsis should actually be?
Yes. ‘Through Orphaned Eyes’ can be viewed from many perspectives – and I don’t mean just the Indian and Pakistani one. The reader can interpret the events in the book through his/her own prism. Even the culminating act – which expresses the rage of an Indian at a corrupt leadership can be interpreted as per the reader’s perspective.
What kind of a synopsis of Through Orphaned Eyes would you give to my American readers who are the majority of people who read my blog insaneowl.com?
For the American readership besides just a glimpse of the history of India and Pakistan, what would interest them would be the insights of Pakistan’s engagement with terrorist groups, how the same groups turned against them post 9/11 and the war that is now being waged within Pakistan – which I term as ‘The War for Pakistan’s soul’. It could throw some light on the thought processes of the Pakistani establishment.
Do you find a difference in ‘nationalism’ where both your protagonists are concerned, or would you say that ‘nationalism only rests with one protagonist & not the other’?
No. Both heroes are intensely nationalist, with a deep love for their own nation. I have tried to portray a balanced sense of nationalism in which the heroes see both the virtues and flaws of their nations. When they see the rot within their nations, both heroes set out to rectify it, the Indian through a political assassination, the Pakistani by waging a lone battle against the fundamentalists who threaten to destroy his nation.
Being in the armed services of India for a long period of time, have you ever wondered what true nationalism is?
For me, and millions of Indians, true nationalism lies in any thought, action or idea that is in the national interest. It is the nation, first and foremost, and everything else – cast, creed, religion, political beliefs, anything – comes second. The problem is when people put the latter first. That is when the ideas of nationalism clash.
Can you explain to my readers the importance of the two characters Bharat Haladi & Baitullah Wazir in your book?
Both characters symbolize the villains on either side. Bharat Haladi is a corrupt Indian politician who participates in the Anti-Sikh riots of 1984, has been convicted of corruption, has numerous criminal cases pending against him and still rises to become a potential Prime Ministerial candidate. Baitullah Wazir is the Afghan warlord who leads the Islamic militants first for Pakistan and then against it. Both are based on actual characters. Haladi is an amalgamation of different Indian politicians. Baitullah Wazir is based on Baitullah Mehsud, the head of Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Taliban.
In your ‘cast of major characters’ in your book, you have placed Baitullah Wazir in the Pakistan section even though he is described in your book as an Afghan warlord. Why did you do so?
Because Baitullah is an Afghan who flees to Pakistan in the aftermath of the US invasion of Afghanistan and then wages war against the Pakistani state (Just like so many militants who were initially supported by Pakistan). He is Pakistan’s enemy who Shahnawaz initially befriends and then combats.
Do you at times feel that there are people like Baitullah Wazir in India as well, maybe not in an Afghan garb & an AK47 by their side, but in mannerisms & ideology?
Not as yet. But those who arise following a rabid philosophy should be curbed – in whatever garb they are in. Else we will face the same internal schism that Pakistan finds itself in.
You have referred to the ‘Kashmir issue’ in your book Through Orphaned Eyes from the Indian point of view & the Pakistan point of view. However, what is the ‘humanity’ point of view where this issue is concerned according to you?
I have covered Kashmir through the Indian perspective, the Pakistani perspective, but I think most of all through the human perspective. It covers the human cost and trauma during the Pakistani invasion of Kashmir (through the looting of Muzzafarabad and the rape of nuns at Baramula). Even the Kashmir insurgency is viewed through a human prism and not a political one.
How have you managed to use symbolism in your book to such a degree that makes it such a fantastic read? Give my readers only a few examples.
Well, the title itself is symbolic, as described earlier. The nameless Indian symbolizes all Indians. I have used dates to symbolize events. The hero walks into India on 15 Aug 1947 – the Pakistani hero is born on 14 Aug 1947 (Pakistan’s Independence Day). The hero loses his father on 30 Jan – the day India lost the Father of the Nation. And the book culminates on 14 Aug 2014 in Pakistan and 15 Aug 2014 in India.
I have also used cricket, dance and music as symbols of our cultures. Other symbols are starker e.g., the Islamic militants send a warning to singer named ‘The Nightingale of Pakistan’ in the form of a nightingale with its throat slit. Shahnawaz, the Pakistani hero suffers from cancer in his later years, brought about by smoking 40 cigarettes a day. He too is afflicted by the same cancer that afflicts his nation. He too feeds it with cigarettes, like his nation fed its own with warped ideology; he too ignores the signs till too late. The actions of the characters are symbolic of the actions of their nations.
Alice Cooper a famous musician whom I often listen to in one song called ‘Poison’ has sung beautifully the following lyrics:
Runnin deep inside my veins
Burnin deep inside my veins
I don’t wanna break these chains
In the light of the above lyrics only, can you tell my readers what is the ‘poison’ running in India’s so called ‘veins’ right now & what are the ‘chains’ they don’t want to ‘break’?
The poison in India’s veins is corruption and communalism. The chains around them have been created by politicians who use the canards of religion and caste to divide the nation for petty self-interest. Unfortunately, the chains seem to be getting even harder to break.
What immediately comes to your mind when I say the following:
- Masterji – Nationalism
- Gaurav – An Indian Soldier
- India wins the T-20 World Cup Final against Pakistan in 2007 – What a glorious game of cricket – but then it is more than just a cricket match.
- S.I of Pakistan – Sponsors of terrorism
- Nuclear weapons – Are they Deterrence or Destruction
What is your hope for a better future for both the countries mentioned in your book Through Orphaned Eyes?
For both nations, our collective future is assured if we merely put aside the difference of the past and begin to grow together. Both nations are fighting their own cancer – India, the cancer of corruption and communalism, Pakistan the cancer of fundamentalism. The internal battles must be won if our nations are to prosper and give a better future to our citizens.
What will your future ventures be like where writing is concerned?
I am still in the deep afterglow of the completion of the book. I really don’t want to start writing seriously again. That will come on its own, whenever my mind tells me to – maybe tomorrow, next week, a month from now, six months, a year — I really don’t know. I am mulling around with a set of short stories, most of which are in different stages of completion. That will be my next venture, perhaps followed by a volume of poetry and maybe a collection of children’ stories or so. I really don’t know which direction my writing will take.
What message would you as a human being would like to give to:
- My readers
- Militant elements in both countries mentioned in your book
For your readers. I truly hope you would all enjoy the book and I look forward to your views on it at firstname.lastname@example.org. For Indians and Pakis, for each one of us our respective nations come first, and our nations and our people can truly grow together, if only we give ourselves the chance. As for the militant elements – they are the cancer destroying our nation. Once they realize the futility of the warped ideology they follow, perhaps our nations- and they themselves – could hope for a better future.
Thank you Col Ajay Singh for enlightening insaneowl.com & its followers about your work as a writer. Continue the good work & all the best for your future ventures. I do hope that we may be able to speak through the medium of my blog once again in the near future. Warm regards from Fiza Pathan.
Col Ajay Singh’s book is available for sale at:
Copyright © 2016, Fiza Pathan