The true essence of a novel is the story behind it and the author's capability to retain the reader's attention. Arjun Shekar's novel, 'end of story' does exactly that from the word go. The title itself implies that a story even after the final chapter is read, doesn't really end and there's always an epilogue.
‘end of story?’ revolves around Shukrat Ali, an employee of a television channel that deals with current affairs. The anchor of said channel, is the narrator of the story, and takes us through his story. The action of the novel revolves around the murder of his boss Satya Saachi Sengupta to which Ali is an eye witness. Interestingly, he narrates the story through flashbacks explaining the events in a courtroom.
Arjun Shekhar writes the novel well weaving in clues through the novel but forces the reader to dig deeper, rather than serve things up on a silver platter. Shekhar explains, "I could make up an interesting story but let me be honest instead. My daughter, who is the muse for one of the characters, has this innate curiosity which i am so envious of. She has a million questions tucked away in the attic of her mind and another thousand questions up her sleeve, and a hundred on her lips.
At one time we had to censor her in front of our friends because she was embarrassing us in public all the time." His vivid narration pushes the reader to question everything. Shekhar went on to say that his daughter was the one who actually made him realize how few questions we asked as adults, hoping that it would inspire readers to wonder and become curious again.
As you read each chapter you feel a strange familiarity as you notice the pattern of it beginning with the lawyer’s questions. Unlike other novels where most of the plot focuses on the protagonist, this novel allows Ali's wife, his boss, and his daughter to take centre stage at various points in the novel. Shekhar likens his writing style to that of the 'Vidushak or Trickster of yore'. He says, "Like Birbal, Tenaliraman, and Nasiruddin Hoja, I use indirect messaging through the subtext while the main plot is suspense driven and takes the readers on an experience. Through out the journey it's the readers who find the answers, the authors only poses questions." The novel, takes you through Delhi and other parts of Maharashtra, as a great whodunit mystery that will leave you guessing at every turn.
Though the novel is a thriller, It is not for the lazy reader. "You have to work with me and all I can assure you is that you are going to be hit by something solid and insightful but you have to agree/commit to make the somewhat arduous journey with me," Shekhar says.
Shekhar believes that an author is a meta character and through the characters and their meandering, an author is actually revealing his own hidden secrets of the mind to himself and to the readers.
On writing the story, and how he conceptualised the characters, Shekhar said he didn't really face too many challenges although there were certainly difficulties in writing it, mainly due to his other responsibilities as an active member of two organizations - a consulting firm and an NGO.
Drawing on the point of each chapter starting as a cross examination, Shekhar said, "The chapter titles are the meta enquiries under which we could ask various questions to ourselves before we buy the story. For instance, the enquiry - "What's not in the plot?" - helps us realize that every story is only part truth because the narrator of an experience, by design, chooses the part of the plot they want to narrate from the experience they have had and typically this is done to create some impression or influence in you. So this meta enquiry subsumes that any story, even the most innocent one, can only be part true by design, and forces the listener to get into the mind of the teller and look for what's he/ she missing out in their narration."
Shekhar deliberately placed, posed and even sequenced all the meta enquiries of the novel so that they are the questions asked by the lawyer to the protagonist to try to unravel the story. "Each enquiry makes the story twist and turn and lift to another level, revealing something different, like a Russian doll, from which new meanings emerge. And yet right the end the entire truth never comes out. This too me is the enduring characteristic of a story - it never ends. Hence the title itself is posed as a question?" explains Shekhar.
'end of story' is a novel that makes one think after reading it, but what was the final message? "In this Age of Expression, we have all become word merchants and the internet, the Tower of Babble, is our market place where we come to trade and swap stories everyday. Now, this is a dangerous scenario, because we need to be sure of the stories we are buying. We need to have better narrative literacy; we need to be probing, punching, and struggling with the stories before internalizing them. Hence it is an attempt to wake up the reader to the need to ask questions which are a natural antidote to the indigestion or rash that a wrongly ingested story might give us. Questions are the Crap-O-Meter that allow us to unearth how much truth and how much bull shit is there in any story," Shekhar answers.
With already two novels under his belt, Shekhar is now working on the second of a trilogy entitled, 'The Homo-Narrans or Story Telling Species'. It is to be an account of a fascinating quest of two researchers - a blind Norwegian woman and a Kumaonese prince - with their Bhotia guide, who are trying to search for a mystery village where people are said to have found the secret of happiness.
Shekhar says the novel is tentatively titled 'One for Sorrow, Two for Joy' and will be narrated to the perspective of the three trekkers who themselves go missing, but whose diaries are found.
Shekhar gave three points of advice to budding authors out there;
"The story is important but observing the story is as critical - don't take the readers as fools. Even as they are caught in the flow of your narrative, give them a chance to get their head out of it once in a while, and reflect and watch the story as well. One level up is a vantage point you have and ask the readers to come stand there besides you and see what you see, every once in a while."
"Heed these five C's and building each one carefully will stand you in good stead.
Commencement - An interesting hook that pulls the reader in within the first few pages is critical
Context - setting of the novel has to be in an interesting time and space
Characters - each character has to be endearing and enduring
Conflict - The tension is very important - a problem to solve grips the reader like nothing else
Climax - the ending has to be punchy and leave the reader with wanting more and a lasting impression"
"Lastly, I would recommend that you use the meta enquiries that form the chapter titles of 'end of story?' in order for you to build your own authentic story. Ask yourself the question that a reader would and construct the architecture accordingly."
About the author:
Arjun Shekhar did his masters from Delhi School of Economics, but he wanted to quit and write scripts for films. He tried his luck and applied for a mass communication course but unfortunately couldn’t get through. He took it to heart, decided to bury his passion deep inside and instead settling for a profession. He drifted towards a postgraduate course in Human Resource Management at XLRI Jamshedpur in 1988 and later joined the corporate sector where he worked as HR at factory sites.
Arjun believes that if it wasn’t for his wife whom he met during his XLRI days, he could have got lost in his profession. The couple founded a not for profit organization called Pravah to sensitize urban youth, to become active citizens and socially responsible leaders in the future. His wife left the corporate world altogether, but Arjun continued to have one foot in there, and thereby founded a consulting firm in 1997 called Vyaktitva that unfolds the true elements of people and organizations.
A couple of years back, Arjun withdrew from his active role at Vyaktitva, and penned down his experiences into a novel set in the corporate world – A Flawed God published by Hachette which came out last year. The book went into a second print run. He also took on the role of Chief Volunteer at Pravah engaging in several projects including co-authoring a book on youth movements published by SAGE that has been very well received.
This third book came out of a deep self awareness workshop called Get Real that they designed at Pravah, which focuses on symbolic literacy and the structure of stories.