Dr. Vikram Singh Deol is Associate Professor and Head, Department of History at Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar Government College, Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, India. An alumnus of St. Georges College, Mussoorie and a doctorate from University of Rajasthan, he is the author of the book Social and Economic Values in the Teachings of Sikh Gurus.
Dr. Parneet Jaggi is Associate Professor of English at Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar Government College, Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, India. A gold medalist in Music Honours and English literature, she is a bilingual poet, writing in English and Punjabi, novelist, editor and critic.
TBE: Tell us about your book, can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?
Vikram Singh Deol: Our novel The Call of the Citadel is a work of historical fiction based on the Indus Valley Civilization. Our endeavour was to present the ancient and enigmatic civilization with a narrative technique so that the life and culture of the Indian subcontinent comes alive in the form of characters. Thus fictionalizing history was a way to reach out to the youth and the common reader who would otherwise not indulge in theoretical discussions and deliberations.
Parneet Jaggi: It primarily tells the story of the city of Mohan-toh-Daro, well developed with advanced techniques of farming and other trades. It exhibits an encounter of two disparate clans with differently developed skills on both sides.
TBE: If you don’t mind backtracking a little, what led you to originally write The Call of the Citadel?
Vikram Singh Deol: The idea came to us when our growing children complained of ancient history being boring. We both teach in a college in Rajasthan. We noticed that even our students could not relate to the life of the ancient period. They reconciled to the idea of history as a subject of dates and names.
Parneet Jaggi: To add to this, we do not have a crystal clear image of how life and culture would have been in the Indian subcontinent 2000-3000 years ago. Here even Google lacks the requisite and adequate images and information that are convincing as well as undisputed. Therefore, we felt a need to connect our youth and the coming generations to the past heritage and culture-that is still enshrouded in mystery.
TBE: Is there more pressure when you tell a story about ancient history? How is the research process different?
Vikram Singh Deol: Telling a story about ancient history is not a pressure as such. History is replete with facts and information, but when characters take over, they take you along. The work then does not only portray the political set up but also the social, cultural, economic and religious historical scenario. With historical fiction, we do not have to interpret or theorize it in general terms, but here the characters live their lives and display innumerable characteristics and demographics of that era. Therefore the author and the reader have complete liberty to read, view and interpret the setting of the era described.
Parneet Jaggi: Yes and no, both in my case. As I am a student of literature, I am more inclined to imaginative creation. I felt the pressure because of the lack of crystal clear pictures of the ancient civilization. More so, it cannot be revisited as conveniently as any other historical event of a later age for lack of written or oral traditions. On the other hand, the pressure was not very vigorous as I had a well-read, disciplined and percipient co-author on this venture.
The research process was different in the sense that there is no written tradition been carried from that age to our present age. Therefore, historical studies and archaeological evidences are the only support system.
TBE: What comes first? The idea for a story or a historical event that you begin to research? How do you choose your subject matter?
Vikram Singh Deol: As other historical events like the World Wars or the partition of India, we cannot find any kind of oral traditions or witnesses or memoirs for this period. Therefore, first hand information of this age is not possible. So an idea had to be picked up and developed in the trajectory of a story telling the pictorial tale of this bygone age.
Parneet Jaggi: The idea of presenting history through the narrative technique worked here. The events of this age can possibly be imagined in several different ways. Though there is no dearth of history books and theories on this age, yet the visualization of the tiny and minute details is generally subjective. Therefore, the subject matter contained historical facts as well as a chunk of our imagination.
TBE: Historical fiction is a particularly difficult genre to master. The writer cannot let his imagination run unchecked, but must adhere to facts. How much creative license do you allow yourself?
Vikram Singh Deol: Historical fiction is no doubt a difficult genre and we have not mastered it. The foundation and setting of our story were based on loose facts, while the narrative was carried along by the characters to display a larger and a more colourful canvas of events and effects.
Parneet Jaggi: This was the trickiest part of the whole project. Where to pull the reins of history and where to let loose the bird of imagination was a game to be mastered. We allowed ourselves to meander with our own judgements and measurements of facts and later coordinated to prune the unconvincing stems of the hugely spreading tree. Editing undoubtedly made us exercise ourselves most in terms of time, reflection and discussions.
TBE: How long did it take you to write this book?
Vikram Singh Deol: Right from the genesis of the idea to the publication of the book, it took us almost six years through the process.
TBE: During your journey from the idea of this book to the publication, what was the most difficult thing you faced? Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Parneet Jaggi: Time management was a knotty issue in our journey of writing. Being full time professionals and with numerous social liabilities to look after, sparing time for reading, research, writing, editing and more specially collaborating with each other was a mammoth task. All other things went smooth enough.
TBE: What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
Vikram Singh Deol: I hope that after reading the novel, the readers no more find history boring .
Parneet Jaggi: I think I would be glad if the reader says after reading the book that he/she is now able to see things that happened thousands of years ago.
TBE: Does Indian history, if interpreted without any bias, teach people to be more accepting of other cultures?
Vikram Singh Deol: History is all about knowing the nation, its culture and its people. Every individual is influenced by history. In the case of India, in fact any other nation also, history has been written with a bias as it includes the perspective of the writer. Indians, long before history was documented, had been accepting and embracing other cultures.
Parneet Jaggi: Firstly, I think interpretation itself is a bias because it is subjective. All our beliefs, prejudices and fancies go into it. Secondly, history does teach us lessons of acceptance and reconciliation. The past has witnessed countless mergers of cultures and races in almost every part of the world. Whenever we visit the past, history broadens our view of looking at life and as a consequence makes us more flexible in our vision and approach.
TBE: Do you read much and if so, which are your favorite books and authors?
Vikram Singh Deol: I enjoy reading. I read anything that interests me, though with the coming of digital platforms and social media, the number of books being read is reduced at my end too. My recent read was Chaman Nahal’s Azadi. I liked the book Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins.
TBE: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Vikram Singh Deol: I enjoy watching movies, gathering information through newspapers, social media and magazines.
Parneet Jaggi: I am mostly writing poetry. Apart from this, I read, listen to music, teach as a part of my profession and spend a whole lot of time with my family.
TBE: What was one of the most surprising things you learned during creation of your book?
Vikram Singh Deol and Parneet Jaggi: This was our first experiment with fiction. We were stunned to watch the characters play with the story and carry the flow of the events with them. No matter how well we thought or planned, all our plans failed in fractions of time.