Among the legion of working actors on Indian TV, Harsh Chhaya is perhaps the most ubiquitous. Over a career spanning more than a decade two decades, the versatile and prolific actor has built up an extraordinary body of work and established a reputation as a measured, introspective personality. And now he has turned his hand to writing, with ‘Chooran’ his first collection of short stories. Chooran is a digestive widely used in India and the variety of tastes – from tangy to bitter to sweet – that erupt in the mouth when ingested has meant that ‘Chooran’ is used as an adjective to describe a wide variety of things in parts of Northern India.
That theme is carried into Harshs’ collection of observational novelettes. In a literary landscape dominated by often cynical viewpoints, ‘Chooran’ is a funny, delightful departure, with the author casting a far more sanguine eye on myriad personalities and societal influences that shape and influence his life.
In the process, Harsh draws on experiences from a wide variety of settings; from the mundane – a new fridge or TV arriving at home; the hilarious – holidays at the grandparents house; the melancholic – the hideout where he escapes to from his parents’ wrath and not forgetting the characters that flow in and out of his life on a daily basis; the paanvala, the cook, the driver, the neighbour and of course, the neighbour’s wife. Harsh’s style is acute and intimate, sentimental and funny and at times, profound.
In between publicity work for the book, the budding author had a quick chat with The UKAsian.
Tell me about your inspiration for 'Chooran' and the process of putting together your first collection of short stories?
An actor’s life is mostly spent paused by intermittent intervals between work, waiting, for work, for inspiration, waiting for the lights to go back on and a scene to be shot. With all that time in hand I more often than not prefer to choose something that feels useful to me than spending time gossiping or partying. The book was not planned; in fact it started with Facebook, after I got into the habit of writing now (in)famous ‘updates’. I would put down whatever came to my mind, whether I was sad, raging, funny, satirical and people began gradually following, reacting, responding and even egging me on to start a blog. So I started blogging even though I was apprehensive, imagining that no one would pay any attention to what I thought about the world or how it should be shaped and run. After about a year of that the blog was voted as one of the 50 most popular in India and at that point I had the idea of collating all those thoughts and giving it the shape of a book. And hey! Everyone fancies writing a book isn’t it?
Your book touches on the dynamics between strangers, acquaintances, servants, a paanvala and so forth. About people who are integral to your life and yet who are not seemingly significant to you. What got you thinking about those dynamics?
Lets put it this way; we go and buy a shirt and we like it, we feel good. The next thing you know, the guy tells you is you are getting two more shirts free as a promotion. So you’re drawn in further. There is this sudden change in you. Something like that happens with little moments with strangers. We have everyday friends, relatives whom we like to interact with and it feels good. But how often do we experience a pleasant encounter with a complete stranger? An unplanned chat on a train or a bus? It’s something that could hold tremendous charm. That’s the kind of thing that I wanted to highlight in the book; for people to read it and go “...cool. I never thought of it like that!”
Every story seems to transport the reader to another world but it’s immediately apparent that those worlds are the everyday worlds that we inhabit. Do you think most of us are guilty of not paying enough attention to the world that surrounds us? Do we take too many things for granted?
We all have our own lives and thats what matters by and large unless something catastrophic happens that affects society as a whole. Even then, you just jump back into your everyday routine the very next day. But there’s no point in complaining about that. If I’ve succeeded in getting a reader to become more attuned to the things and people around him, then I’m happy.
You seem to have been inspired by everyday characters. But what about the more well known characters that you work with day in day out on TV, in the theatre? Did they fail to inspire you or did you make a conscious decision to NOT ruffle anyone’s feathers?
When you live with something day in and day out, it becomes ever more mundane. The process of writing the book allowed me to totally depart from what I know and do every day. That was liberating. And I don’t think it ever crossed my mind to ruffle any feathers! However, there is an idea that germinating inside me, to write about the world that I inhabit, the people and the way it works. But I’ve never been known to bitch about anyone so I don’t intend to do so in the future. I think being positive about things is far healthier. Even if I were to take off someone’s clothes, I would dress them up nice and well by the end!
What are your thoughts on the reaction you’ve had to the book?
I’m thrilled with the reception the book has received. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that I could write as well! It’s made it far easier to sail through the mid-life blues! And I hope I can find the time and inspiration to write more.
To order a copy click: http://harshchhayaworld.com/html/feedbk_cntct.html