My original idea in writing The Age of Shiva was to create a central character Ashvin who is never quite attained by the people in his life who love him. In this, he would be like the Hindu god Shiva, who is so alluring because he is an ascetic - his unattainability evoking an irresistible longing which can never be fulfilled. I started with Ashvin's mother Meera, the first person in his life to be passionate about him - I figured that perhaps a chapter or so about her back history would help explain her motivations. Two hundred pages later, with Ashvin yet to be born, I realized I was writing Meera's story, not her son's.
Where did Meera's voice come from? All I can say is that for the years I worked on this novel, she was a constant presence in my life. It was an incredible experience - to be able to think like Meera, love like her, feel what she was feeling, to be her. I still feel amazed at having had this opportunity to inhabit a woman's mind so intimately.
I tried my best not to impinge on Meera's humanness, not to airbrush her character or interfere with the choices she made. Most of all, I refused to force Meera into being a noble heroine. Meera's India was a very patriarchal society, a period of oppressive expectations and few true freedoms for women. My aim throughout was to intuit how Meera would react under these pressures and constraints.
In comparison, I had to work more consciously at putting myself in Ashvin's place. Perhaps this was because my own experiences as a son, so different from those in the novel (my parents were married for over fifty years, until my father passed away at age eighty-two) kept getting in the way. It was easier to lose myself in Meera's love for Ashvin, the fabled all-encompassing maternal rapture for which there is even a special word "vatsalya" in some Indian languages. The challenge was to go further than the carefree physicality shared by sons and mothers, by exploring the gray area just beyond this.
Shiva kept wafting in and out through the pages I wrote, sometimes as a force of attraction or longing, sometimes in the form of the myths he shares with Parvati, sometimes as a symbol of religious ascendancy. I was drawn to the idea of writing a story not only of Meera (and Ashvin) coming of age, but also of the newly independent India struggling to reach adulthood. The most fascinating part of the research was to spend many hours in the Mumbai microfilm library of the Times of India, browsing through decades' worth of newspapers, trying to get a feel for the atmosphere prevailing in the country during various periods.
Each time I read an account of the history of postcolonial India, I was struck by the tremendous odds that faced the country at Independence. To have remained united despite its divisions of ideology and class, its profusion of orthodoxies and prejudices, its crushing illiteracy and poverty, and most of all, its profound religious schisms, is amazing. For India to have risen in sixty years to a point where it is poised to become a major power on the world stage is nothing short of a miracle. Writing this novel has been a journey of discovery for me, one that has helped me better understand the evolution of the country of my birth.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.