A story that talks about love, passion and sacrifice is what Nidhi Dalmia’s debut novel, Harp, is all about. Born into one of India’s oldest industrialist families, Dalmia was surrounded by a business and industry culture since his childhood. But it is his love and passion for writing that lead him to write a novel at the age of 69 (age of retirement).
This heartwarming love story, set in the 60s, takes you to a whole new world of music, literature and travel. It is a story that revolves around three central characters, Ashok, Lauren and Aparna, which is told through various twists and turns. Besides, the story includes intense descriptions of various places in Europe, and also lyrics of the songs that belong to that era to make you feel the sixties way, which makes the novel all the more interesting to read.
We caught up with the author, who talks about his novel, his passion for writing, his experiences and more.
You have been brought up in a business and industry environment since childhood. So what lead you to choose this creative path?
All of us have a writer in us, and all of us have stories to tell. It’s a question of taking the plunge, and expressing it. I always wanted to write but never got the time. So when I managed to create some time, I wrote.
Tell us about your experience of writing Harp?
In the beginning, I didn’t have a clear conception of what would come out. As I wrote, it started taking shape. It took me 10 years to complete this book. I started in 2005 and finished in 2015. Of course I was working full time then, so this was an addition but I did a certain amount of writing everyday. Once it was finished it underwent several revisions, and changed a lot as well. But it evolved essentially. And finally, it was ready.
What was the idea behind writing this story that is set in the late 60s?
I wanted to tell a tale about the idealism of those times, the hope, the romance, and the feeling that we are going to change the world. A lot of revolutions were taking place at that time - cultural, sexual, student revolutions and so on. There was a lot of music being released then, there was a lot of new thinking, and of course there were tremendous attractions for India. All of India had become a mecca - there were people coming here from all over the world, especially from the West, because they were trying to find themselves - as there is no better place than India for inward journey. India is known for its spirituality and that’s what distinguishes us from the rest.
I wanted to express that idealism and hope and describe those times and also the feeling that it would never end. I feel it is important to follow your heart. What is more important than your relationship with the significant other? The difficulties you encounter while trying to live the life you want, and how you overcome it or not, is what I am trying to convey in this novel.
The story of Harp revolves around love, longing and sacrifice. What was the inspiration behind the characters and the location?
In my life, I had the privilege of meeting a lot of rich and interesting characters, so those characters were mixed up in the story. And it’s not entirely based on any particular character in real life. That said, you always take inspiration from people you meet, then you invent something, and then they take on their own form.
When it comes to the location, these were unusual places of those times. It is based on first time experience, because I did travel to those places. Otherwise I couldn't have given descriptions that were as vivid as they are.
How different is Harp from all the other books that are based on love and sacrifice?
First of all, what other novel goes behind the iron curtain, in that period? It describes a communist world and it also goes to the interior of Finland and Norway - these are countries that are less travelled.
Secondly, the music of that time is important that it is almost a character in itself in the book - you can say it’s the fourth character. It’s different in the sense that the music of that time is closely interspersed with the narrative.
And another important thing that makes it different from others is that the novel has a main triangle and then there are several other triangles as well. Of course, I don’t go into those triangles, otherwise it would become too long.
Along with these factors which are unique, I would say, the story deals with the choices that we all have to make with the head and the heart - the choices we make, and the situations we encounter are unique. So it is the question of whether you go with the heart or the head, do you work it out logically, act spontaneously or impulsively - how do you resolve it?
It’s a love story very deeply felt.
Why the name, Harp?
The chief protagonist, besides Ashok, is a harp player. She is an accomplished harp player. She falls in love with Ashok. At some point in the story she is in a dilemma - if she comes to India there is no future for her as a harp player, so for her as well the choice is between pursuing her passion as a musician or pursuing the love of her life. That’s why Harp.
Are some parts in the novel based on your personal experiences?
Some parts are based on my personal experiences - but you can’t call it an autobiography. The travel particularly is based on my personal experience and some of the characters are invented and some of them are people that I encountered.
Please take us through your creative process? What's your routine like?
I usually prefer to write in the morning, when I am the freshest. But not first thing in the morning, mostly late morning. I usually write for about two hours. I write on a particular computer - I use a different computer and room for my office work. They are compartmentalised in that sense. And where I write, it looks out to a lawn and it’s green, which is soothing, almost like meditation.
As an author, writing is not the only aspect you are involved in - you have to also look into marketing, book readings, interacting with publishers and your fans. What do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy the writing part. I do the rest because who else would do it? Left to myself, I would just write and let professionals handle the rest.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have another book, which I have already written. I would have to revise it, which I would do once I finish with the marketing for Harp.
What genre appeals to you - in terms of writing and reading?
In terms of writing, romance appeals to me. In terms of reading, I would say romance, non-fiction, mystery, adventure, spirituality, philosophy, and travelogues.
What are some of your favourite books?
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
- Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- Heaven Has No Favorites by Erich Maria Remarque
- Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
A piece of advice you would like to give budding authors.
There is no formula for anyone. But what I would say is when you’re writing don’t worry about how it sounds, whether it will be liked or not, whether it will be published or not, whether it’s good or not. First you express yourself, because if you become self conscious, you won’t be able to get your story out. Later on revisions will take care of all the other aspects. Do the best of your ability. If you’re conscious right from the beginning, then you won’t be able to work.
Have you read the book already? What's your view on it? Let us know in the comments below!