In his de­but novel Harp, Gun Nidhi Dalmia of­fers a glimpse into the by­gone era of the six­ties, re­vis­it­ing the ide­al­ism, mu­sic and cul­ture of a gen­er­a­tion, who, like him, be­lieved that the good times would never end.

Marwar - - Contents - Text Sneha Ma­hale

In his de­but novel Harp, Gun Nidhi Dalmia of­fers a glimpse into the by­gone era of the six­ties, re­vis­it­ing the ide­al­ism, mu­sic and cul­ture of a gen­er­a­tion, who, like him, be­lieved that the good times would never end.

Born into one of In­dia’s old­est in­dus­tri­al­ist fam­i­lies, Gun Nidhi Dalmia, son of the late Ramkr­ishna Dalmia, was brought up in sur­round­ings typ­i­fied by busi­ness and cul­ture. While im­bib­ing nu­ances of run­ning busi­nesses, he also cher­ished the spir­i­tual en­vi­ron­ment preva­lent at home, where Vedas and Upan­ishads were a part of his home-school­ing. We bring you a tête-à-tête with the in­dus­tri­al­ist-turned-au­thor, who has penned a fic­tional tale of love, long­ing and com­ing-of-age, in a decade pop­u­larly re­ferred to as the ‘Swing­ing Six­ties’.

What mo­ti­vated you to write Harp?

I wanted to de­scribe the hope and ide­al­ism of the six­ties that I and many oth­ers thought would never end—how the themes con­veyed then were uni­ver­sal and how mu­sic in­ter­spersed with ev­ery­day life. I wanted to write about the uni­ver­sal­ity of hu­man emo­tions and feel­ings. We all have sto­ries to tell. I wrote a tale about how love and obli­ga­tion com­part­men­talise peo­ple, mak­ing them choose be­tween love and duty, be­tween the head and the heart, be­tween one’s so­cial con­tract and what one wants. The in­di­vid­ual choices one has to make have pro­found con­se­quences. I wanted to por­tray a deeply felt love story, as dif­fer­ent as any per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence can be.

Have you wanted to be a writer for a long time?

I have wanted to write since I was a school­boy. I re­mem­ber my best friend wouldn’t be­lieve me. He would say, “You are from a top in­dus­trial fam­ily, you will be an in­dus­tri­al­ist.” I wanted to write in ad­di­tion to run­ning a busi­ness, not in place of it.

Is the novel bi­o­graph­i­cal? Did your trav­els in­flu­ence your work?

The novel is not bi­o­graph­i­cal, but we al­ways draw upon our ex­pe­ri­ences, es­pe­cially travel ex­pe­ri­ences. Some of the peo­ple I had the priv­i­lege to meet in­spired me to take as­pects of their per­son­al­ity and cre­ate new char­ac­ters, who ac­quired a life of their own.

What were the chal­lenges you faced, if any, while pen­ning down a fic­tional novel set in the ’60s?

I grew up in the 1960s, so it wasn’t dif­fi­cult for me to pen it down. It was a time of ex­tra­or­di­nary cul­tural, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal change. What was re­fresh­ing about it was how per­va­sive it was. There was hope for the world and ev­ery­one thought it was an era that would last... that we would make it last.

My de­but novel is about this mag­i­cal and charmed time, which co­in­cided with my teen years. The en­light­en­ment and eman­ci­pa­tion it sub­scribed to—sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion, for ex­am­ple—changed me ir­re­vo­ca­bly.

Your book has for­eign words, mu­sic and dance from that era, and de­tails of the dairy in­dus­try and busi­ness man­age­ment. What kind of re­search went into cre­at­ing a back­drop that is be­liev­able enough to trans­port the reader into that era?

The mu­sic of that era is what I have al­ways loved and have largely not for­got­ten. The for­eign words did not re­quire re­search, as I speak those lan­guages. As for de­tails of the dairy in­dus­try, I had a lot of knowl­edge about it, as we were run­ning a dairy fac­tory called Ed­ward Keven­ter (Suc­ces­sors) Pvt Ltd, where we pro­duced a range of dairy prod­ucts. I ac­quired busi­ness man­age­ment knowl­edge from run­ning other busi­nesses as well. My son Agastya Dalmia has restarted the milk­shake busi­ness un­der the brand name of Keven­ters, which is now vis­i­ble all over In­dia.

Would you say that writ­ing a pe­riod love story is more dif­fi­cult than pen­ning a non-fic­tional one?

Both are dif­fi­cult in dif­fer­ent ways. I could not say that one is more dif­fi­cult than the other. Writ­ing re­quires pas­sion. If you have a pas­sion to write, ev­ery­thing be­comes easy.

You have also made ob­ser­va­tions about the pre­vail­ing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in In­dia. Was it your way of get­ting the read­ers of a young In­dia ac­quainted with the time?

Yes, ab­so­lutely. A book is more in­ter­est­ing than read­ing dry eco­nomic his­tory as a data sheet of facts.

Tell us a lit­tle about your­self.

I am an alum­nus of St Stephen’s Col­lege (Univer­sity of Delhi). I pur­sued post­grad­u­ate education at Ox­ford Univer­sity and the Sor­bonne, and man­age­ment education at Har­vard Busi­ness School. My pro­fes­sional life ex­posed me to di­verse busi­ness re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, es­pe­cially in the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor.

My fa­ther, the late Ramkr­ishna Dalmia, was one of the top three in­dus­tri­al­ists in In­dia for sev­eral decades. He was a pi­o­neer in sev­eral in­dus­trial fields. By dint of hard work and in­no­va­tion, he rose as a self-made in­dus­tri­al­ist to the top, in a ca­reer span­ning both the pre­and post-In­de­pen­dence years.

As a mem­ber of sev­eral pres­ti­gious pro­fes­sional bod­ies, I have re­ceived ex­ten­sive pro­fes­sional train­ing across the world. I was a part of the col­lege ta­ble ten­nis team at Ox­ford and oth­er­wise en­joy swim­ming. My in­ter­ests in­clude cin­ema, theatre, opera and clas­si­cal mu­sic. I di­vide my time be­tween Delhi and Paris.

What’s next on the agenda?

The sec­ond book has al­ready been writ­ten. It was in fact writ­ten be­fore Harp. But a lot of edit­ing and re­vi­sion is re­quired, so I am work­ing on it cur­rently.

(L-R) Alexan­dre Ziegler, French am­bas­sador to In­dia; Gun Nidhi Dalmia; and Vaiju Nar­a­vane, au­thor­jour­nal­ist at the launch of Harp

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