‘Tootan‘ is a love story that dies because of the shams of society. It is a story that touches your heart with its colloquial writing and evocative narration. I read it last month and it marked to be my first Hindi read of this year. I was amazed at reading Hindi by a contemporary writer which is rare, to be honest.
In a conversation with Bookish Fame, author Ashutosh Asthana spoke about his book, writing, and shared his thoughts on the present scenario of readership in India.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I was born and brought up in Allahabad the city of the confluence of holy Ganga and Yamuna. I come from a middle-class family. My father is a retired police inspector and my mother is a house maker. I received my education from St Joseph’s College Allahabad and then I did my bachelor’s and master’s in journalism from the Allahabad University. Currently, I am working as a journalist in a media house in Noida.
When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?
Since my school days, I was interested in writing articles and poetry for my school annual magazine. Some of my work got published in it as well. But it was never my aim to be a writer. After my post-graduation when I got into the news world, I began to look at things from a different perspective. Somehow I developed a socialist ideology and began to write articles and short stories on the daily life of people and issues that concerned a normal person.
What inspires you to write books? What are the things which catch your attention?
As I mentioned earlier, I never thought of becoming a writer, but yes, being a journalist was by choice. As I started my journalistic career I began to develop a viewpoint that was different from the society. I began to question many things that were acceptable in the society as customs, traditions or views. During this time I started reading about Karl Marx, communism, Manto, Premchand, Ismat Chugtai and other such writers and writings that deal with the middle class and lower middle class. After reading them, something triggered me to write on issues that are prevalent in the current scenario. So I started to write short stories and articles.
Tell something in brief about your book ‘Tootan’? How did the idea of coming up with this book strike you?
One of the issues that I dislike in Indian society, especially in the middle class of small cities is that they didn’t consider love or attachment between two people as a virtue. Love is still considered a taboo in our society. Our society is fine when two strangers get married but they do not accept the love between two people who know each other for a long time. Caste issues, class issues and many other such problems create a barrier between those two individuals who dreamt of living together. In my personal life, I have seen such people, who, after not getting ‘permission’ from their family to marry the person of their choice who is also from a different caste, gets into a married relationship with a stranger and then they spend their whole life adjusting with one another. Relationships are not meant to be like this. Marriage is a sacred bonding that doesn’t need adjustment.
I started writing about this and it became a book which I named Tootan. So, Tootan is a fictional work but it also consists of my views, what I feel about society and things that need to be changed about society regarding love and marriage. I feel that love is above caste, religion OR gender and people should accept it. I know that things won’t change suddenly and in fact, my book will not change the scenario in a day or two but I feel that it’s a small contribution from my side to the society and it will be a success for me if one person understands the idea of Tootan.
Do you see books as a carrier of an important message or a medium of entertainment?
I feel that literature and cinema are two aspects of society which have a deep impact on people. I have never seen literature as a mode of entertainment but it is something that is highly sacred. It might sound weird but I never read books to kill time or to get entertained. I read whenever I want to seek answers to my questions or when I feel that I have to understand more about certain issues, be it society or about the style of writing. I consider every book to be a Gita or a Ramayan, because they tell us something that we don’t know or that we have never thought about!
Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
I would like to quote one of my favourite writers Munshi Premchand- “I am a labourer, on the day I don’t write, I have no right to eat“. Writing for me is a way of getting peace and solitude. I feel I don’t know much about myself so I am unable to describe who I am…to know me better one has to read what I write because writings never lie. So yes, writing is spiritual for me, especially fiction writing. As I am a journalist, I have to daily write articles and news pieces, but I don’t write fiction daily. I am only able to write when I feel something about any issue that I need to write about. It took me 1 and a half year to write Tootan. Not because the book is too long, but I never wrote daily. There were many days when I didn’t write a single word because I felt that if I write on days when I am not interested, I won’t be able to give it my hundred percent.
When you were young, did you ever see writing as a career or full-time profession?
One thing about writers that fascinated me since childhood is the names of writers printed on the book. I always desired to get my name printed on a book though I never dreamt of becoming a writer. I later came to know that writers get royalty for writing books. I still don’t think that I am capable of being a full-time writer. I just want to write something that can bring a change in society.
How would you describe the contemporary scenario of writing and reading in India?
I feel that people are reading less these days because of which a class of half-informed people is developing in society. I think before being a good writer, one has to be a good reader. I won’t comment on the writing or contemporary writers but I feel that the present-day writers have a big role in shaping the society for a better future.
Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors? What is your favourite genre?
I don’t think I am a bookaholic, but yes I love reading. My favourite genre is fiction that too the one which deals with the daily lives of people. My favourite writers are Manto and Munshi Premchand but I also love the work of Amrita Pritam.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
I don’t think at this budding stage I should give advice to aspiring writers. I would just like to tell them that don’t write to get fame, write to transform.
Are we going to hear more from you in the future?
That’s a tough question. Well, I have a story in mind but it is still in the initial stage, I have to brainstorm a lot on it to bring it on paper.
*We wish Author Ashutosh all the best for his future endeavors.*