Interview with Author Hemant Saxena

Interview with Author Hemant Saxena

Author of the Book : Olive Diaries
ISBN: 9789354464096
Publisher: Evincepub Publishing
Interviewer: Swapna Peri

Swapna Peri: Congratulations on your book Olive Diaries. When did you first discover you wanted to write?

Author: Writing has been my first love since high school days. During this time, I was creatively engaged in writing small plays for a local group of theatre enthusiasts in my hometown Jabalpur of which I was also a member. Seeing my stories coming alive on the platform of theatre and small adulations coming my way encouraged me a lot. My father saw this streak in me and helped me realize for the first time that I wanted to write. I continued penning short plays, stories and poems as I grew up and finished graduation but never got to publish these. Those were not the days of internet explosion and therefore no one except for my close family and a few friends, knew of my desire to write and reach out to a wider audience.

Interestingly, Hindi being my mother tongue and the medium of education during the schooling became the natural choice of expression for me.

After I joined the Indian Army in 1984, I began communicating in English more frequently. It took me few years to be comfortable in this medium as I grew in age and service.

Swapna Peri:  Can you share with us the genesis of Olive Diaries? Why the name Olive Diaries?

Author: I have proudly donned my OGs for over three decades during the active service in the Army from 1984 to 2015. OG as you know stands for Olive Green, and is lovingly used as a reference to anything and everything related to our proud Army.

Soul of the stories in this collection reside is in the heart of my personal diaries written dutifully during my active service in the Army. I need to admit here that this journey spanning over three decades was chequered with many mundane things ensconced in a rigid routine of military duties which also gave me a perfect excuse to let the inertia prevail and therefore these stories never got their body. Blissfully distracted, I forgot about these beautiful moments that I had shared with so many wonderful people as I criss-crossed the length and breadth of the country during the course of my Army duty.

After superannuating from the corporate sector, in my second innings, I was packing up to move back to my humble abode when I accidentally hit upon this treasure trove and came face to face with my long-forgotten diaries. It did not take much rummaging through its pages to unlock a deluge of precious memories overwhelming me instantly. At that moment I realized that I owe these people more than few strokes of a pen in my personal diaries. How can I not acknowledge the impact these people had on me to make me what I am today? They had touched me gently, deep inside, in more ways the words can describe. In my moments of solitude, I realize that no school, college, or training institute could have taught me these life lessons in such a subtle yet effective way as these wonderful souls has.

Olive Diaries became a natural choice for the title because all the stories here have lived in my diaries written during my time in the Army. Olive is also a symbol of peace and these stories promote only peace however tumultuous the prevailing circumstances may have been.

Swapna Peri: Though the disclaimer says it is a work of fiction, the stories look so realistic. Why did you want the world to know these stories?

Author:These stories are a work of fiction although the protagonists and incidents are true in their core. I needed to make use of creative liberties to protect the sensitivities of some of the characters yet in some cases these persons were not available for seeking their approval to bring them to light. I wish to assure my readers that I have not compromised on the central idea of the stories and their spirit remains unaltered.

Not letting the world to know what are real heroes go through in their private moments before they commit themselves to life altering demands of the services was not an option. In stories like Peer Saab, you would notice that some of the critical actions cannot be justified through rational thinking. So, what makes people do what most others will not do when in a similar situation is an interesting insight into the human soul. Fortunately, I have been privy to some such rare moments and I wanted to share these with everyone who cares. 

I also wanted to break the stereotypes that has been built around our modest soldiers so that we know of their fears, vulnerabilities and aspirations as any one of us would have. Also, by soldier, I don’t necessarily mean only army personnel. I found many who did not have a commitment due to the uniform but still their contribution was unique.       

Swapna Peri: Taking into account your experience, can the readers expect the second volume of such similar stories?

Author:I have many more storiesto share with my readers and would love to do that. So, yes depending on the response of my readers which so far have been very encouraging I would pen more anecdotes and similar narrations. I also want to share with my readers that I am currently working on writing a Hindi version of these stories. A lot of my friends and readers were of the opinion that these stories must be told in Hindi as well so as to not deprive the Hindi readers of this experience. The collection in Hindi would be called सलामी शस्त्र (Salami Shastra) which is a word of command for offering salute by armed soldiers. It will be my salute to the real-life heroes whom I had the good fortune to share those critical moments.     

Swapna Peri: The illustrations and the End Notes inside the book are enticing. Why did you want to include them?

Author:The basic idea of illustrations came to mind because the settings in all my stories is very unusual. Information about the day-to-day life in army is not a very common understanding to the outside world. On top of this, most of my stories dwell in the mysterious world of cloak and dagger. So, I thought that a simple illustration before starting every narrative will help my readers who are not very familiar with the operating conditions of security forces deployed in the remote border belts, to mentally construct the narratives better. On the other hand, I had so many conflicting views and advises about having illustrations as part of the narrations in the book. I was told that conventionally, illustrations go well only with children’s books or the academic books. Making these a part of Olive Diaries may undermine the seriousness of the writing. I have therefore listened to my heart and gone ahead with one illustration with every story to help my readers understand the context. Endnotes are also important because some of the technicalities are beyond the purview of readers who have no or very little background knowledge about the life in Armed Forces. 

Swapna Peri: During your tenure in the Indian Army, what books fascinated you the most? Can you talk about your favourite fiction book?

Author:I was not strictly in to military readings and I have enjoyed many authors. I actually grew up reading Osho ever since he was known as Acharya RajnishThe first story that had hit me hard when I was in class 8 was ‘Ho much land does a man needs?’ by Leo Tolstoy. I did not read it but this was narrated by our English teacher during a regular discussion. It is noteworthy to know that neither the story nor the author was part of our syllabus then. During college days I was drawn to the writings of Ayn Rand and her iconic novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’ became my all-time favourite. Later on, I started appreciating the stability and depth of Paolo Coelho and have loved reading his many books since then. I cannot stop reading ‘The Alchemist’ anytime I lay my hands on it. Khalil Gibran has impacted me in a strong way and ‘The Prophet’ has never lost its appeal to me. Leo Tolstoy’s famous short story ‘What Men Live By’ has impacted me in more ways than one.

Swapna Peri: Do you read new authors works? What is your opinion on Indian New age writing?

Author:There is a great range of new authors in Indian panorama of literature. I have not read much except for Amish Tripathy and I adore his work.

Swapna Peri: Apart from writing, what are your other interests?

Author: I am a travel enthusiast, have a special thing for pets and would love to get back to theatre if time permits. I also wish to take to biking for travel remote parts of this great country.  

Swapna Peri: How did you enjoy writing this book? Which is your favourite story out of all seven?

Author:I really loved the process of creating this book. All events were waiting to be rediscovered and the process was cathartic and therefore therapeutic to say the least. I loved Peer Saab the most for its intrigue and uncertainties of human mind. I also liked the decision dilemmas and simplicity of the childlike desires of a combat helicopter pilot in Mission Accomplished

Swapna Peri: Lastly why should people read this book? Author:Please read this book if you want a peek into that one moment from the lives of our soldiers when the transformation of a very regular and vulnerable human being into a real-life hero takes place. You will see the demands life makes on our Bravehearts and how their every effort may not turn in to a moment of glory but the life has to go on. This book is definitely for those who are not afraid of breaking the stereotypes that has been built around our real heroes inadvertently or otherwise.

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