Walking into Amandeep Sandhu's house gives a person who has read his books the odd sense of being in a semi-reality. On the wall are photographs of people whom you think you recognise from his books, Sepia Leaves and Roll of Honour. You sniff at the diwan you’re sitting on because you’ve read about the smell of its wood.
The author himself presents another paradox – he seems to have plaited his life into the story, and yet speaks in a detached manner of characters. Where his persona in Roll of Honour, a first-person narrative, is resolute in telling his story the way he sees it, the author is keener to ask for feedback than talk about his book.
His first book Sepia Leaves, a cult hit among mental health groups, deals with a boy – Appu – growing up in the shadow of his mother’s schizophrenia, in an atmosphere where a nation is shrouded in Emergency. His second book revisits Appu, now in his final year of military school – in 1984.
Sandhu speaks to Sify.com about what drives him to write, the intertwining of the personal and the political, the idea of Khalistan, and the myths about Sikhism he wanted to break when he wrote a novel about Operation Blue Star.
Let me start with the most basic question – why do you write?
I write to exorcise my demons.
So, once you’ve reached a place when you’re at peace with your demons, will you stop writing?
I’ll die. I mean, I don’t think you exorcise your demons in one lifetime, you know. But yeah, if I feel I have said all that I needed to say, I might stop writing, and that is okay.
You’ve written two books now, and you’ve seen what it’s like to have your name on the cover of a book, to have your book stacked on the stands, to have people tell you that your books helped them confront their own demons. Do you like the process of writing itself? Is the idea of having a book edited and published and put out on the shelves addictive?
There are two-three aspects to this. I love the process of meditation and reflection, from which comes the writing. And then there’s this rigmarole of sorts, of having to get it accepted by publishers, and then an editor tweaking your things around, and you wondering whether it’s really being done right or not – though I had a very good relationship with my editors – and the whole waiting for the cover page to come, and then more waiting.
With this book, I could not sleep those nights when I knew the book had been printed but had not yet reached me. I just could not sleep until I held the book in my hands.
But, really, it would be too much to say that this is something unique. Because every mother who births a child goes through that, you know. And the moment the child is brought and shown to her, the mother’s like, “Oh! Oh-kaaaay...” (Laughs) So, it’s just that – they’re my children.