Roshan Singh lives in Jharkhand. He has done his schooling from Sainik School, Nalanda, and graduation from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Hyderabad. He is also a poet, has written a book named 100 Titleless poems. The Snowman of Nalanda is his first novel published by Leadstart publishing. He loves travelling to distant places on his motorcycle.
TBE: Tell us a little about your story and the story world you’ve created in The Snowman of Nalanda.
Roshan Singh: The story in the book is about the transformation of a man from his human form to a Yeti. There is a reason and history behind his transformation. Bidyasagar has known the nature of human world through his human experiences, and he is just fade up of human ignorance. The damage ignorance do to our lives, in fact once he himself was an ignorant being, but as he shed the cover of ignorance, he could see what he could not see earlier. Everything has two sides, and there is a dark side of humans too in context of the environmental degradation. The story links the fall of Nalanda to same ignorance that is destroying the world now.
My ancestral village is in Nalanda, and a part of the story entered in my mind’s landscape from the stories of my childhood. It was always there locked in my head like a dream. I think I was 12 when I first visited the ruins of Nalanda monastery accompanied by my father who gave me a lovely tour of the place. It was there a sense of history began to take birth in my imagination.
If you will ever go to Nalanda, you will not be able to escape from the stories of its demise. There is even a railway station in the district named after Bhaktiyar Khilji, the name of the station is Bhaktiyarpur. We could see how history has been part of lives of the people in Nalanda. What I have written in my book is folklore, more than history. It is based on the myths and the collective story left in the consciousness of the masses. If we strictly go by history, there are many more versions of its fall. There are many who even give argument that the monastery had declined to its lowest even before coming of Bhaltiyar Khilji that might be true.
Past is a lost place, we cannot go back there, but I tried to capture what people have in their mind of the story of its fall. The world of my childhood became the world of the book, as I have lived most of my life in Jharkhand, near the jungles of Hazaribagh National park. I grew exploring those Jungles. I brought everything together to create the world you look in my book.
TBE: How do you come up with the title of your book and what is the significance of the title?
Roshan Singh: For me, the mysterious snowman is a symbol of lost wilderness and with it I connected the event of Fall of Nalanda. I wanted both these words “Snowman” and “Nalanda” to be there in the title. Merging these two words and ideas they represent, I got the title I was looking for. I felt “The snowman of Nalanda” will be apt, and would do justice to my book.
TBE: What kick-started this novel in your imagination? Did the fantasy come first, or the history, or the characters?
Roshan Singh: I remember I was in Ahmedabad. I just had taken admission in the Central University for higher education after one month of treatment for my anxiety disorder and depression at C.M.C. Vellore; I was in really a bad mental state. It was a completely new place for me, I spent most of my time in the library and as the library card had not between issued for new students. I was only supposed to read the newspaper and magazine for a time being. While reading those magazines, in one of them (Down to Earth) I came across a piece on Yeti, just as I completed the reading of that article, the idea of the book hit me. The dots got connected in my head. Nalanda was always at the background, and with getting another thread to link it. I got my story.
TBE: Do you have the details in the story planned beforehand, or do you develop the story as you are writing it?
Roshan Singh: I knew the historical aspect from the folklores beforehand. Time to time, I had read few pieces in the newspapers about the demise of Nalanda, but I tried to explore the historicity of the subject from the internet and few books as much as I can; some were even similar to the folklores I knew. My concern was the story more than the history. The fantasy came later as I told you during my stay in Ahmadabad.
TBE: In researching and writing about Nalanda monastery, what did you learn about the people that surprised you the most?
Roshan Singh: There is a long account given of the Nalanda University by the Chinese traveler Hiuein Tsang who stayed at the monastery for almost ten years during 7th century and studied his subjects of interest at the monastery, mostly Buddhism. Harshvardhana of Thneshwar was a prominent king during his arrival who was even a patron of the monastery.
In terms of history, the people that time lived differently; agriculture was the most important occupation back then. There is a whole interesting history how the nearby villages supported the monastery with their produce, but the thing that surprised me most was the influence Buddhism had in India, in those times. The way it declined in India astonish me. Sometimes I think what would have India look like if Buddhism had not declined as the main religious force.
TBE: Your story is rich in historical details and realism, but it’s also a story in which mythological creatures and magical abilities are simply taken as a given. What do you feel was the most important thing to remember when it came to achieving verisimilitude with this particular novel?
Roshan Singh: I think the most important thing was the existence of so many myths in our imagination, like the Snowman, people genuinely claim to have seen the Snowman, even one of the world’s leading mountaineer, Reinhold Messner had wrote of coming face to face to a yeti in his book. These kind of mystery linked to the Yeti gave me place to make it true, but on the other hand. My novel is set up in a medieval times and the world back then was a mysterious place. Further, the speaking capabilities of animal have been a tradition in our traditional books like Panchtantra. Although, there are numerous account in the book which could not be believed, but I took some leniency to weave the story.
TBE: Have you based any of your characters on someone you know, or real events in your own life?
Roshan Singh: Yes, there are many characters based on people from my own life, in fact, my father’s name is Dr. Bidyasagar Singh, the name which I gave to the protagonist. It is my gratitude to my father. Further, the character Vishwas was based on one of my classmate at TISS who was too much involved in the spiritual realm of life; he even missed classes for doing meditation some times. We made very fun of him but his devotion to spirituality was striking for anyone who knew him. The character Swarnavo is based on my roommate in college, Swarnava Bhadra. I took their peculiarities to weave my characters in the story.
TBE: How do you see the relationship between fantasy and reality?
Roshan Singh: I believe as life is an extension of our childhood, similarly fantasy is the extension of reality we want to live in. Fantasy and reality are interconnected through the thread of our imagination; there is another world which each of us creates to walk in for company. We place the beings with which we love to spend time.
TBE: What did writing ‘The Snowman of Nalanda’ teach you, or help you realize, about your own experience with faith in your life?
Roshan Singh: My book taught me a great deal. It helped me to know to explore my writing capabilities. I came across various lacunas while the process of editing. My editor pointed out the short coming which had escaped my eyes. I think in professional façade it made me a better writer, and I could use these learning to improve my writing further, in fact I am using the learning in my writings.
Coming to the question of faith, my faith lies with divinity of mother earth. May be I have lost faith on humans but I still believe in humanity. Nature has been sacred in our religion since its genesis, but in coming times, it would become more sacred than it was in past, but behind it would not be religion but science.
TBE: In your opinion, what is the most important thing about any book?
Roshan Singh: The most important thing about any book in my opinion is the art of conveying the message through the story. The message has to be given in a way that it sticks with the reader like a gift from the writer. Books have changed the course of history innumerable times, and I believe, god has abandoned us, man has to save himself, and he could be saved only through books.
TBE: What are some must-read titles in your genre?
Roshan Singh: I will begin with the western classics – The chronicles of Narnia, Alice in the wonderland and Lord of the rings are must read title in the genre. Indian literary landscape is also rich in this genre; my favorite is “Chandrakanta”. Fantasy is even an important element in our religious texts, Ramayana and Mahabharata is rich in elements of fantasy. We just not segregated it from the reality. Indian fantasy is pretty much different from the fantasy of west.
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Roshan Singh: I have just completed my next book. I have not given it a title yet, but I am working on it. This book would be my tribute to Panchtantra, an important book of this ancient civilization. I have tried to reinvent it. It is a long book of almost 1 lac words. There are seven sections in it. It has everything from short stories to long stories to poetry and play. Once I am done with my editing, I would explore the option of publishing it.