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Swallowing the Sun — A novel on the triumph of the human spirit

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Shillong, April 21: Former ambassador, Lakshmi Murdeshwar Puri was at the Taj Vivanta, Shillong, on Sunday to release her debut novel titled ‘Swallowing the Sun’. NEHU professor, Jyotirmoy Prodhani ably moderated the discussion, drawing out the author by picking on important facets of the book, which was, according to the author, a trilogy looking at three generations of women and their respective journeys.
Puri has held many important positions in the United Nations, and was the founder Deputy Executive Director, UN Women. She comes from a generation of women, particularly her mother who fought their way through in a deeply patriarchal society.
During the conversation, Puri said that she was happy to have the special privilege of bringing her new book to the city of Shillong.
“I visited Shillong in 2019 and for years I have learnt a lot about the cultural and literary luminosity of this place. Shillong is known for its English literature and poetry. This place is some kind of literary turf,” she said.
Stating that it is an exciting movement for her as a debut novelist, the writer reveals that this novel is inspired by her parents who were extraordinary people of their generation and represent the people of their age.
According to her, the characters in this novel represent the strength, challenges and opportunity of an age and more importantly they are people who seize the opportunity which they got.
Stating that the novel is not only about the women characters in this novel but even the men of that age transcend boundaries to achieve the impossible.
“As someone who was born to a family that had the privilege to have a glimpse of that era in which they have lived and struggled and loved and achieved and failed. For me, my parents in their own right are prophets of that time,” the former diplomat said.
Puri said that this novel is a historical fiction and it covers a period from 1918 to 1950.
She said that the novel has an epic scope and she really wanted to capture the personal history of these characters.
Meanwhile, the former diplomat said, “I could very well have written a biography since their life was dramatic enough but I didn’t want to do that because there are certain things that cannot be revealed hence I gave a touch of fiction to my work. There are few people who have called this book a faction (fact+fiction). When you write a biography, it appeals to the intellect. But I wanted to touch the heart by having poetry and lyrical quotes to reach out to the soul of India,” she said.
Puri also said that it is very much a coming of age tale and it is about young people of that time.
“It is for this reason I have said it is of young people, for young people and by young people, to make it resonate with the present era. People will be surprised when they read the book for it does not read like a period novel since people speak the language in a very modern way,” the writer said.
The book weaves through the eyes of Malati, and delves into one of the most tumultuous periods in modern Indian history — the struggle for Independence. Malati’s fearlessness enables her to defy the patriarchal traditions of her time, pushing the book towards a women empowering narrative. Being a valiant girl and backed by her progressive father, she and her sister Kamala push the societal boundaries constantly, eventually becoming the first women in their family to go to college.
They both end up in Bombay (now Mumbai), which was at that time a hotbed of political ferment, and are whirled by the currents of the battle for Independence. The book revolves around their ups and downs of love, compassion, loss and prejudice.
Hosted in Shillong by Ehsaas Women, Khaitan Foundation, founded by Late Dr Prabha Khaitan, an advocate for women’s empowerment and litterateur, this is the second book discussion held in Shillong.
An attentive audience was spell-bound by the Puri’s narration of how she was inspired to write the novel from the 148 letters written by her father, which she carted with her in all her assignments. It took nearly 22 years before she could actually write down what is an epic novel of 2,70,000 words.
“I started writing in June 2020 for 7-8 hours a day and never left the house. It requires that kind of discipline and resilience to write a novel that comprises memories and how those are interpreted over time. I completed this epic work in 2021 and David Davidar of Aleph Book Company agreed to publish the book. Of course, it had to go through a robust editing to bring down the number of words,” Puri informed.
Later, the author gave out signed copies of her book to the select audience present at the book discussion.

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