The Quest,

Saba Naqvi embarks on a journey in search of an unknown India in her new book

In Good Faith, the title of my book at times sounds like a cliché to me. But it was appropriate to use if for a journey that contested the idea of absolute religious identity and traditions. It’s been 20 years since the book began and now that it is finally published, what I am most happy about is the notices it is beginning to get in the regions, in Bengal, Maharashtra and now Assam.

What drove me to write this and undertake this journey is what also drives some of my journalism—A mix of ideology and curiosity and the great love of understanding and discovering new things. I operate as a mainstream political journalist and I am careful not to cross certain lines but idealism, certain political views have always motivated me.

As I have written in the opening chapter of the book it was the events surrounding the Ram janmabhoomi movement that motivated me to undertake a journey to find people, communities and shrines that challenge our predetermined notions of what makes a Hindu or a Muslim. Along the way I found people and places on the periphery of absolute identities creating a unique space for themselves. It was a journey that had me travelling to all parts of India. I have a short chapter on Assam as well and I loved the place and spent more time there than was necessary. I had also travelled to the northeast of India from there. Unfortunately could never return to Assam as found no excuse to do so.

Anyway I carried this book with me for two decades and every now and then returned to the project. When I finally did do so it was over summer holidays in 2011 and 2012. As a journalist I am used to working on deadlines and I told myself that if I don’t do it now this work will just slip away from me.

So in June 2011 my parents, daughter, sisters, the whole clan went for an annual summer break. This time we rented a house in Manali in a beautiful apple orchard and estate. The Beas river was a short walk. It was very lovely and calm and with my father as master of ceremonies, fabulous meals were being prepared. We were eating, walking and surrounded by beauty. I began writing there but all too soon the vacation was over and it was back to work in Delhi.

In April last year I took a week off and wrote from home and some shape was finally beginning to take place. Then again back to journalism…

Then it was finally in the 2012 holidays, this time in a very nicely done up historic home in Shimla. I moved into a small corner room in the cottage and kept my own schedules. I would wake up early, do some yoga and write till lunch. It required discipline to keep myself from joining the noise, the fun, the outings, my nephews running around, but I isolated myself. It actually took me two weeks to finish the draft that I then made a few changes to over one weekend back in Delhi. The manuscript was sent to the publishers in July and it was only in October that they decided to bring it out quickly within a month. Hardly any editing changes were made and before I knew it the book was out in December last year.

I have learnt a lot from this process. First we have to set schedules to write and be stubborn about it. I have another long pending work to complete but now I know how to go about it. And now that this book has done well and number two is on its way, I have ideas for so many more. The first idea that is taking shape in my mind is a fiction to tell the story of a certain public event that moved me and I have followed closely. I would then be testing my abilities and whether I can make the shift from non-fiction to fiction. I may even fail at the attempt but along the way shall certainly give it a shot.

As a journalist one is so trained to deal with facts. Would I have the skill to write using my imagination? I wonder about that now. The other thing off course is will I be able to balance writing with my journalism? For journalism is important to me also. It is a way to engage with the world, to interpret events around us, perhaps even imagine we are making a difference in the way we tell a story.

But now that the book is out and I have new choices and options because there is one thing that I am clearer about now than perhaps some years ago. Ordinary careerism does not interest me. It is the belief that whatever I am doing is driven by some ideas, ideals and compassion. I like caring about things in the world around us, I like being moved, and I will go on trying to chronicle the troubled age we live in.

Saba Naqvi is the political editor of Outlook, one of India’s leading news magazines, and writes on politics, governance and current affairs. She has travelled extensively around India and covered elections in the country, particularly in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Gujarat. Beyond her role as a reporter and analyst, she follows issues of identity and culture. She lives in New Delhi.