Ira Singh’s creations are riddled with nostalgia, metaphors

Ira Singh and the cover of The Surveyor
Ira Singh and the cover of The Surveyor

In her debut novel, Ira Singh has deliberately picked up metaphors as motifs to narrate a coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of partition and independence, and refrained from getting into details that led to these developments to narrate a story of a family.

“It would have been extremely rash to go into the details of the events…I wanted to show how partition affected lives and hence used it as a backdrop,” Ira Singh, who teaches English literature at Miranda House, told IANS in an interview.
This fictional tale “The Surveyor” (Picador India; Rs.350) is set in August 1947. The reader witnesses partition and the carnage that followed through the eyes of its protagonist Ravinder, a Sikh, who has just joined the survey of India.
While the author has used cartography as a tool to acknowledge and bring forth events of historical relevance to India, Singh has managed to merge Ravinder’s personal woes relating to his long hair and confrontation with his father for cutting his hair, and later marrying an Anglo-Indian girl in the story.
“Ravinder’s story is about memory – what you carry with you. It is these memories that bring in the sense of longing and the idea to be elsewhere,” said the 44-year-old, who took a year off from her teaching duty to complete the novel.
She began writing it in 2009 and finished it in 2012. The clarity of writing a novel had set in from the beginning, though she began writing short stories in her 20’s.
“I love novels and I had always wanted to write a novel,” said Singh.
“Writing a novel is a difficult enterprise, one has to think how to tell a story and shape it. I discovered this art while I was writing it. But in the beginning it was difficult to find my voice, but the moment I discovered it…Everything fell in place,” she said.
Having chosen a story that intersperses between facts and imagination, Singh admits her greatest nightmare is to “get her facts wrong”, nevertheless, she admits the word “research” does not fit into her style of writing.
For her, the process of knowing the past events and history had much to do with “background reading” that every novelist does, including her.
“I read a lot, but that was to ensure that my background appears credible,” she said.
“I personally believe, history is something that should not overwhelm the main narrative. Situations, characters should talk about life and background should be relevant to the series of events,” she added.