‘Climate anxiety led me to write The Man Who Lost India’

‘Climate anxiety led me to write The Man Who Lost India’

Seema Kumar

Seth is the richest man in town who wants to get his extremely beautiful daughter Ida married off to Harsh Shah, who holds a National Identification Card. And what is the significance of that. Well, it is because Meghna Pant’s new book The Man Who Lost India, set in 2032, talks about India and China being at war and this card, which is transferable to the spouse, could save her life.

Meghna’s book, a dystopian narrative narrates a grim story of Chinese occupation of India’s Punjab, leaving the country in ruins.

Set against this backdrop is the love story of Ida and Manu, the Seths’ domestic help. A Shiva linga atop Mount Akaho with its supernatural powers saves the town initially till a half-Indian half-Chinese cop blackmails Manu to find out the secret connected to this small temple to understand the incident that saved the town. It’s a racy book with the usual trappings of love, betrayal, illness and eventually a happy ending but what is interesting is Meghna combining both Hindi and Mandarin with humour. In post-war Chinese occupied Lalbagh, Seth becomes Lao Seth, noodles become temple offerings Namaste becomes Ni-maste (combination of Namaste and its Mandarin equivalent ni hao ma), leading Indian film stars becoming background dancers for Chinese movies and much more.

In an interview with The Mind Diaries, Meghna talks about the book and why she picked climate change as the backdrop of the book.

Some excerpts from the interview:

Even as you have written a war book as a challenge, I find it interesting that you have focussed on the issue of climate change, which is something that is causing a very real anxiety in the world. What made you choose this as a subject and that too with China from where Covid became a reality and a nightmare?

Climate change anxiety is real for anyone who has read a newspaper or a tweet. And this anxiety led me to write The Man Who Lost India, which examines how climate change leads to 21st century’s biggest war – between India and China.

It is inevitable that due to water scarcity, water wars will become commonplace, especially in Asia. As inter-riparian relations collapse, China will try to assume the role of Asia’s water hegemon. Let’s not forget that China’s foreign policy this century will be driven by economic needs due to resource stress. This will be detrimental to the interests of its downstream neighbours and therefore become a flashpoint for other Asian riparians, especially India with its 400 rivers.

Climate change is inevitable. War is inevitable. The annihilation of both nations is inevitable. What the book foregrounds is what we can do about it, and thus find hope and resolution in the catastrophe.

The Man Who Lost India is therefore my small effort to unpack India’s China challenge. To serve as a wake-up call to the international community to prevent such a catastrophic event. We have to raise awareness about the geopolitical tensions in the region and encourage dialogue, diplomacy and conflict resolution to prevent escalation. By providing not just a historical but future perspective in the wake of climate change we can grasp the deeper roots of contemporary issues, raise awareness and foster a deeper understanding of the issues at stake. By highlighting the human suffering and devastation that war brings, this book may contribute to prevent violence, promote dialogue and cooperation, and improve bilateral relationships between the two countries.

The Man Who Lost India is therefore my contribution to promote peace and stability in a world that is going to be devastated by climate change.

Do you feel vindicated that you have written a very racy war book?

Definitely. Because it will show women that we SHOULD write in genres we’re told not to!

Historically, war literature has been predominantly male-dominated, with a focus on combat, heroism, and masculinity. But women writers have written war novels and women directors have directed war movies, offering unique perspectives on conflict and its impacts. They have often challenged stereotypes associated with both war and the act of writing about war. Women writers entering this genre have also brought new perspectives, often consciously confronting and subverting stereotypes, contributing to a more diverse and inclusive portrayal of war literature, and the representation of women’s roles within them. They’ve offered alternative narratives that highlight the diverse experiences and perspectives of those affected by war. By centering women’s voices and experiences, they contribute to a more nuanced understanding of conflict and its human toll. Not the ephemeral or deciduous impact of war as captured by the male gaze, but the lasting impact by delving into the emotional and psychological impact of war on individuals and communities.

Coming back to climate change, the fact that among a lot of things that are worrisome about global warming, climate change, water shortage is a very worrying issue especially for the future generation? What if the rivers actually dry up? When you were writing the book, you could have chosen any issue to write a book on war, so why climate change?

Because water will influence the rise and fall of powers in the world in the 21st century, like oil did in the 20th century. Asia will become a potential flashpoint for water wars as China assumes the role of Asia’s water hegemon and water scarcity strains inter-riparian relations. Shortage of resources will force China’s foreign policy to become detrimental to South and South East Asia, especially its most formidable enemy India.

You took 10 years to write this book, why?

Twelve years ago, a fellow author – male, of course – said that women can’t write war novels. As a heretic, I wanted to debunk this stereotype. But I have to confess that I experienced cognitive dissonance – like some people if they see a celebrity they love­­ – and didn’t actively pitch the book out. I was consumed by this canonical fear that the book took so much out of me, and it was still not perfect. I wanted the book to be perfect. So, it sat in my laptop for six years.

Till I realised you can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving. I gathered the wherewithal to pitch it out and send the book out. So here it is: 10 years in the making and also the first time that an Indian woman has written a dystopian war novel! I didn’t know I was making history by writing the book, I was just trying to prove a chauvinist wrong!

When I read it now, I can safely call it my magnum opus­ – the best I’ve written, and that for me is perfection. It is always about your value of the thing, not the thing itself. So, I hope I have done justice to my gender and more women write in genres that they’re told they can’t write!

What do you think? Will readers look at it from the point of view of a war or from the point of view of a war due to climate change? What do you think they will take away from the book by way of saving the environment?

Everyone experiences art differently so I can’t predict how readers will react, except that if you enjoy bold, audacious, and genre-defying books, this one is for you! The book is not concerned with the political or religious or social leanings of its reader either. It’s an amorphous child now on its own journey. It will find its own path and own readers.

Anything you would like to tell the younger generation about being kind to nature and saving the environment for their own welfare.

Reuse, recycle, regenerate and thus rejuvenate our dying planet.

Lastly, how did you feel both while writing the book and after finishing it about climate anxiety, which is real? Did you sit down and take a moment to ponder about it? Do you feel the anxiety too? And how?

Of course it does. My climate change activists and journalists have warned that, for example, Mumbai will be annihilated by a tsunami and earthquake within the next 10-15 years. And no infrastructure or technology can save us. This has influenced my decision to purchase a large home in the city using all my life savings, because who knows if the house or we will survive climate change! That’s how climate change anxiety works. It’s very powerful.

 

The reason for China’s war on India:

“As China awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, it found itself transformed into a gigantic arid nation. This was not entirely unexpected, of course. The Chinese, so many of them, had long been tapping into scarce resources and drinking up all of China’s water. The government tried to get new sources of water. It launched a one-litre-a-day drinking water campaign. It built dam after dam after dam on rivers Yellow and Yangtze and Sungari and Pearl. It tried to save the melting Himalayan glaciers, two-thirds of which were expected to disappear by 2056. It tried to get the Mekong River breadbasket to bake—speaking metaphorically—fresh buns. Nothing worked. Beijing experienced heat waves. Shanghai saw storms and floods. The citizens were left parched. There was simply no water.

The Kolkata launch of the book at the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival by none other than the luminescent powerhouse of talent Swastika Mukherjee
The second Mumbai launch of the book at Title Waves by Faye D’Souza, Miss Malini and Aditi Mittal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

China was left with two options: to become a barren wasteland or to source water from the outside.

That’s when the bright Chinese strategists remembered.

The Doctrine of Absolute Territorial Sovereignty. This doctrine said that upstream states, like China, were allowed unlimited use of trans-boundary waters regardless of what occurred downstream. Now Tibet, whose ass China owned, happened to be—luckily for them—the world’s largest water tank. Many rivers originated from Tibet and flowed downstream to other nations. All China had to do was gain absolute control over these trans-boundary waters. After all, why should China let Tsangpo pour its precious water into the Brahmaputra, when it could keep all the water to itself?

The other Asian nations protested.

Then the still-thirsty Chinese throats gurgled: why are we nibbling on the shore when we can swallow the whole ocean? So, in typical covert style, China built a dam on Nepal’s Karnali River and then watched—it worked, this plan worked!—the great Ganga River gasped for breath.

With Tibet, China owned almost fifty per cent of the world’s water supply, and now—with recent invasions— it owned more than sixty-to-seventy percent. It controlled more than half the world. But, the dragon was still thirsty. It greedily eyed another H2O nation: India, with its mammoth blue lines of boundless gurgling water. How lovely would it be, thought China, to sip from the Ganga, Krishna, Godavari, Yamuna, Kaveri and Meghna, to slurp from the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, to take a gulp from that great Indian Ocean. India was both a mere downstream pawn and also the mightiest enemy on China’s border. It was the only nation that could oppose China in the region. It had to go.”

The first Mumbai launch of the book at Crossword Bookstore by Suchitra Pillai, Anu Menon and Neil Bhoopalam.