You’ve probably been asked this a million times, but, this is all about Osho isn’t it?
No, it isn't strictly about Osho, or Bhagwan as he was known when I was commissioned to write about the ashram he ran in my home town of Poona – Pune now. The idea for this novel originated in that trip I took from Britain to India at the behest of a magazine editor, but it didn't occur as the book it is till about 28years after that experience. I haven’t read a biography of Osho and though I have followed some events about Oregon and Pune as written in the newspapers, I don’t really know about his life. I’ve made up the speeches, including the first one which starts the book about the word ‘fuck’ – because I’ve found through research that he wasn’t the originator of this piece of linguistic whimsy but as with so much else of his ‘thought’ its plagiarised without acknowledgement but with clever veneers of disguise. He was magpie.
Why Prophet of Love? What inspired/prompted you to write this story. How did it come about?
I wanted to call it Prophet of Sex, but the publishers (and incidentally my grown up daughters) disagreed. As I said I was given part of the fare to get from London to Pune and went in the late seventies/ early eighties (I honestly can’t remember and it wasn’t worth researching) to my aunts’ house as described and to the ashram to listen, observe and to get an interview. That’s all in the book as it happened. My aunts are very real and my cousins tell me that I have described them and the house truthfully and evocatively. And I did meet a young woman outside the ashram who was seeking to expose it for the crimes she felt she had been the victim of while under its spell. Most of the rest is fiction. One never knows how or from where a piece of fiction is born. I have always been scientifically minded and always thank God that I am an atheist. I believed at the time I did the interview that Rajneesh was one of the greatest and most intelligent confidence tricksters that India has produced and that his followers from the West were at best disillusioned with their western lives and prospects and at worst gullible idiots.
In general I am sceptical about Godmen and follow nothing and no one, though have a lot of respect for Tchaikovsky, Shakespeare and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and though I am not big on resurrection or water-walking, anyone who can turn water into wine is my man!
Pune seems to be your muse, given that you’ve grown there, written about it: (Poona Company).. How much of the Ashram were you influenced by? Or were you just the fly on the wall as the journalist portrayed in your book?
I went to the ashram several times and was shown around it by enthusiasts. The bits in the novel describing the sex sessions are based on my investigations, but I, as an Indian male wasn’t allowed, by diktat of the Bhagwan, into the sessions. He knew that Indian males who joined his movement and turned orange may possibly be doing it to get at the white women in the sex sessions and told me when I asked that Indians ‘didn't need the therapy as they didn't suffer from the same sexual hang-ups’. So no joy for the brown boys!
I was impressed by the fact that a lot of European and American professionals had signed up to Rajneesh’s pseudo-philosophy. I was brought up to believe that philosophy was Aristotle to Bertrand Russell and a bit beyond and not rehashed Kahlil Gibran with sex and attacks on American parentage and religion thrown in. I was, as you put it, an observer and not in any sense taken in.
To the reader, the narrative seems like it’s weaving its way between truth and fiction. So what is the ratio here of truth:fiction?
I really can’t say. It’s like asking me to confess to how many lies I have told today or this year. Oh, OK, if one must, it’s 14% true and 86% imagined truth.
Between the various books you’ve written, Adultery and Other Stories, which looked at human nature and relationships candidly, or Rumi’s translations and now this on-the-verge-of-a-thriller novel, Prophet of Love, how do you switch to different styles of narratives?
I don't think of it as ‘switching’. Some writers may have a mindset and write six or ten books about fictitious magic public schools. I have no such mindset. I write to be published, to make a living, to follow the thread of what I am interested in (the Rumi translation, the Adultery stories, Poona Company, Bombay Duck etc.) or what I am paid for such as the screenplay for Subhash Ghai’s film Kisna.
The technique of writing screenplays is very different from that of writing fiction and even within fiction the short story requires a different sensibility from a ‘novel’—whatever that is. Nevertheless I think all the writing that I do is based on observation of real things, the nuances of happenings, finding stories in the events of life and listening for tones, registers and the way people actually speak as opposed to mythologising or attempting to impose magic on the real.
The book presents delightful slivers of Pune of a another time. Do you visit often and find that the city is no more the city of your nostalgia?
Poona has changed, utterly changed and I can’t with Yeats, or Pune’s Municipal Corporators say “a terrible beauty is born.” It’s ugly and crowded, but that’s life. I am not nostalgic about the Poona I knew – it had to change to sustain itself. In my last years there, even then, this monstrous speech bubble hovered above my comic persona saying I had to leave there was a bigger world elsewhere. The cowboy movies used to say ‘this town is not big enough for the two of us’. I felt it wasn't big enough for the one of me. Returning after many years I found that the mountain had come to Mohammed; the world was much with the sleepy town I had left.
Do you face the dreaded writer’s block? How do you overcome it?
I don't face any such indulgence. Writers’ Block is for geniuses and self-indulgent amateurs. When one writes for money and writes quite a lot in journalism, films, TV, stage and fiction, one writes to deadlines, you can’t afford Writers’ Block. I have thought about it though and concluded that I won’t suffer from it but if Alzheimer’s gets me in the end, no one will understand the drivel I write.
Which of your books would you like to see been made into a blockbuster?All of them of course. I believe the closest right now is The Bikini Murders which has already been contracted. Prophet of Love could make an interesting international film, Black Swan (Not the foolish one about the obsessed ballet dancer, but my novel which first used the title about Shakespeare and Marlowe and a young black girl in London) would make a good movie but being a screenplay writer I’d like to originate fresh stories. Offers?
Couple of films on the go in the UK and my agent has the manuscripts of two books of prose—one called ‘Joyce’s Dog’, a literary fiction and the other called ‘Deccan Queen Second Edition’. Then just done a Bangladeshi adaptation of Goethe’s Faust for the Bengali stage which will be performed in Dhaka and other cities later in the year and then maybe in its English version in Britain.