Art helps people understand each other, says cultural activist turned novelist Pradeep Nigam ‘Aalim’

By Suresh Nautiyal

Does mythology have to do anything with the day-to-day life in China and Japan?

The answer is in the negative, if you agree with Pradeep Nigam ‘Aalim’, an Indian cultural activist turned novelist, now based in Japan after long years in China.

A multi-faceted Aalim – exploring theatre, paintings, cooking, etc – says that mythology has nothing to do with the day-to-day life. Rather, it should be based on the scientific temperament and thinking.

“Mythology can push us back only. It does not have the scientific ingredients.”

“The day-to-day life based on scientific thinking is much more relevant. That is why the common people in China and Japan do not think of mythology. They think more about the practical things,” said Aalim while talking exclusively to UNI during his recent visit to his hometown – Old Delhi.

“Also, the people, in general, in China and Japan are least interested in politics and history. Similarly, mythology and religion are on the back burner. Being pragmatic, they are not interested in talking about religion. Either, they do not like to discuss their religion in public sphere and do not believe in the mythological stories. Their thinking is totally pragmatic and scientific. In fact, pragmatism has taken them ahead of so many others including the Indians,” added Aalim.

“In general, the Chinese people don’t believe in religion. They think scientifically. From scientists and artists to the common people, they have this approach. They talk about scientific approach towards studies and research,” he said.

On the other hand, according to him, the Japanese are very emotional, though pragmatic. “They are very clear about their private things and common things. For them, religion is a private thing and, therefore, it is not a part of common discourse in their country. They do not either talk about religion publically,” Aalim said.

“And most importantly, there is no discrimination of any sort in the Japanese workplace. Everybody respects everybody else there. The Japanese are also very clear about the human rights. Free speech and free expression are the salient features of their democracy. And at the same time, they are very hardworking people and keep their surroundings quite clean,” said Aalim.

Asked about the salient features of the literature in India and the countries like China and Japan, Aalim said the literary traditions in China and Japan are based much on the day-to-day life of the people with scientific temperament; whereas the Indian literary traditions are rooted in mythology, history, politics, etc.

Nevertheless, he is of the view that the Indian literary traditions do not lack in anything. “There are areas which the Indian litterateurs need to explore with much more passion,” he opined, adding that the ancient playwrights like Kalidas and Shoodrak and modern writers like Premchand, Rabindranath Tagore and so many others were there to awaken and enlighten the readers.

“Even a work like Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru is a fair treatise to give an historical perspective of India. These writers always keep on enlightening and guiding the new generation of authors,” averred Aalim.

Aalim – who did his post-graduation in dramatic art from the Central Academy of Drama based at Beijing in China and Japanese language course from the Japan Language Institute, Fukuoka Japan – said that he, in the past, worked for a famous Chinese playwright Cao Yu and took part in several Chinese TV programmes and stage shows. “In Singapore, I was part of an international drama festival and participated in many TV programmes. In Japan, I started a theatre group, Ten Chi, and staged plays like “Asharh Ka Ek Din of Mohan Rakesh and Ek Tha Gadha of Sharad Joshi and also staged Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwala and Kalidas’ play Malavika Agnimitra and a few Chinese plays.

As regards the theatre in Japan, Aalim said it is very difficult to make money out of theatre in Japan like India. “Still, people love theatre and are associated with it. Like Broadway in New York, Japan has a famous musical theatre group Shiki, performing not only in Japan but also in South Korea and China,” he told.

When asked what made him write novels on the Indian historical background, he said being Indian it was quite natural for him to write novels with a sense of Indian history, though it is quite difficult to write novels with historical references.

“History is seen in distinct lights. There are different viewpoints and the historians have interpreted history differently as they have different ideological perspectives. My family has been part of the old culture of Delhi and, therefore, has a deep sense of history and skills in Urdu language; so it was not that much difficult for me to build the stories of my novels with a tinge of history and Urdu language.”

“I am of the strong view that a sense of history can make the authors explore and interpret the reasons of downfalls of the dynasties and society in a particular epoch,” said Aalim, supplementing his viewpoint by giving an example of Zhou Enlai, who, after establishing new China or the People’s Republic of China, asked the playwright Cao Yu to write historical drama to make people understand the rise and fall of the society and help new generation understand their past in a progressive perspective and so that the contemporary generation contributes in building the country’s future.

“In this light, I am going to write fiction on the background of China and Japan for the Indian readers, ” he added.

When asked what inspired him to write a novel like Payadan-e-Gul-e-Yasmin and what he wanted to draw besides the historical references, Aalim said before responding to this question, he would like to draw an example from China where he worked for famous Chinese playwright Cao Yu. He said Yu’s first three plays were based on women’s liberation and he chose an epoch for his plays which was feudal as well as colonial and where women were struggling for liberation.

“Similarly, I had one character, Umarao Jaan — an accomplished poetess and a renowned courtesan — in my mind. So, I wanted to write a novel about the same period but different from Umrao Jaan. I wanted to show how women were struggling for liberation and freedom. In my novel, Payadan-e-Gul-e-Yasmin, published in 2018, the main character is a very strong woman, who never allowed others to take decisions on her behalf and who never blamed others. She went through several ups and downs in her life and society and moved forward with courage. This novel, in fact, shows the strength of the Indian women, who never surrendered to the situation and overcame all difficulties and had their laugh at the end of the day,” explained Aalim.

“In a nutshell, this novel is a tumultuous and challenging journey of a prostitute.”

About his first novel, Afsana Tera Mera, Aalim said this fiction is a story about everybody. “It is a story of you and I. It deals with the philosophical queries like who am I, who you are, what is religion of you and I, why do we believe in the caste-system, why do we have countries and why do we discriminate on the bases of our skin-colour and ethnicity.”

When asked about the ways to cement relations between China and India, Aalim was quick to say that we needed to revisit our history and rebuild it the way it was in the past.

“India and China have lots of similarities. Both of them were very close friends in the past. After the World War II, the political situation changed and we even went to the war. After the 1962 War, the Indians started considering China as an enemy country. But, the situation in China is totally different. Most Chinese do not even know about the Indo-China War. They do not consider India as their enemy. For them, the number one enemy is the US.

“In view of this, we need to develop trust between people of the two countries, and art can help in making people of these countries understand each other,” concluded Aalim. (UNI)