All about planning

“Family planning continues to be a major social issue in a country as overpopulated as India, and is a term that is used often in public discourse,” says debut novelist Karan Mahajan describing the significance of the title of his Joseph Henry Jackson Award-winning book Family Planning. The 26-year-old graduate from Stanford University now lives in Brooklyn, working in the same field as his protagonist in Family Planning — urban development.

By Raziqueh Hussain

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Published: Fri 24 Sep 2010, 9:28 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:29 PM

“I started the book when I was 20. It took a year and half to write, but there were long gaps when I was busy making a living. Much of Family Planning was inspired by the mangled landscape of modern Delhi,” he says.

This novel is about a politician in New Delhi who has become obsessed with having more and more children (he already has 13) and the effects this has on his career and family life.

At the heart of this story is the chaotic household of Rakesh Ahuja, a hard of hearing, US returned engineer who holds a prestigious position as New Delhi’s minister of urban development. Apart from the bureaucratic and political challenges that face him at work (he’s in charge of a laborious flyover construction project and part of a political party that sponsors intolerable bills such as the Diversity of the Motherland Act which calls for the compulsory registration of all Muslims “for reasons of diversity and national security”), Rakesh is beset by his own personal dramas at home.

The part of research that was personally interesting for Mahajan was, “Learning about the intricacies of Indian politics — and realising that it all amounts to petty bickering and backstabbing,” he says.

The main challenge about writing about a political drama was being authentic about the milieu without being constrained by reality. “I find among Indian writers and editors a complete mania for authenticity: they’d rather describe with painful exactitude a religious ritual or the passage of a Parliamentary bill rather than alter details to suit their story, and I wanted to know enough about politics to take liberties with it. So I took the usual steps: I researched, I interviewed, I eavesdropped, I Googled, and then I threw it all away and did exactly what I pleased. I write fiction, not documentary, and I want to keep the world safe for fabricators,” he says.

The author describes himself as the “one who goes headlong into tragic situations, but with a sense of humour.”

Mahajan has an observant and sensitive eye. Also he has a knack to create satirical scenarios that reflect some of the complexities and paradoxes of social and political life in today’s India.

Talking about his early influences, he says, “I read War and Peace when I was 16 and can barely remember it, but I like to think it taught me some vital lessons!” He also names Saul Bellow, Cynthia Ozick, RK Narayan, and VS Naipaul, as his favourite authors.

When Mahajan was in high school, his brother and he ran a ramshackle cricket website dedicated to the Indian team. The site became so popular that the duo was eventually hired to be cricket editors for, then the largest sports network in the world. “It was fun to be paid to gossip about cricket,” he adds.

And that’s not all. He was obsessed with magic too. Perhaps, that’s why he can weave magic with his words so effortlessly.

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