(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
P.C.K. Prem: In Conversation with Sudhir K. Arora
An author of more than fifty books in English and Hindi, P C K Prem (P. C. Katoch 1945 of Malkher Garh, Palampur--176 061, a former academician, civil servant and Member, Public Service Commission, Shimla, Himachal) post-graduated from Punjab University, Chandigarh in 1970. He has published nine collections of poetry, seven novels and two collections of short fiction in English. A few significant works on criticism are: Contemporary Indian English Poetry from Himachal-edited 1992, English Poetry in India: A Comprehensive Survey of Trends and Thought-Patterns 2011, English Poetry in India: A Secular Viewpoint-Co-edited 2011, TEN Poetic Minds in Indian English Poetry and Time and Continuity (2016). Creative writings in Hindi include twenty novels, nine books on short fiction, one collection of poetry and criticism. He is a recipient of more than twenty literary/social awards including HP State Guleri & Academy Awards and Bharat Hindi Rattan Award. Many academicians and scholars have published critiques/research articles on his works that are included in various anthologies/reference books. His critical articles on poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous anthologies. Many literary journals of International repute have also published his critiques on poetry and fiction.
“He not only offers an expose of life in its shocking shallowness or outward show but also provides, down deep, philosophical prop or basis to sustain life. Prem deals with the present day world, its problems and dilemmas, fears and aspirations. Katoch (Prem) tries to unravel the mystery of life by looking into the life of things. His fertile imagination and mature artistry enable him to manage complex situations and a vast spectrum of life. In the lineage of the nationally known Maharaja Sansar Chand, Prem is the only major poet, novelist, short story writer, translator and critic in English from Himachal Pradesh,” says Dr Atma Ram (former Director of Education and Advisor to the Government of Himachal).
He has one daughter Dr. Shivalik Katoch Pathania and a son P. Vikranta Jay Katoch. Presently, he lives with wife Shakun in their farm at Palampur-176061, Himachal. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Arora: Namaste, Sir. You have been an academician, civil servant, poet, bilingual novelist (Hindi and English), short story writer and, above all, critic. It is certainly a long journey. How do you fuse these roles into one personality and how far is your experience as a bureaucrat helpful in making you a prolific author?
PCK Prem: When you work in diverse living patterns, you look at life differently as inner man challenges because psychologically you are not at peace. Opposed working conditions create genuine problems. When in college, I did write but suddenly a break disturbed and after teaching, I turned to bureaucratic life. I observed life at different levels, its irritations and hold ups. If one scrutinizes tiny trickles, one learns. Ability to put up with frustrations and insults helped me maintain creative work at many levels satisfactorily. For a creative artist, work infuses energy and advantage and when he shares feelings and thoughts at the philosophical and psychosomatic level it has relevance. Writing is exclusive as an art and perhaps yes, it is a compulsion at times, and so an impulse must not be a burden but a spontaneous act of creative charity. Experience in totality as a bureaucrat proved a blessing and I learnt to synthesize even trivial warps.
Arora: Sir, every author has a source of inspiration. Your writings reveal your exhaustive study of history, myths, culture and allusions. How far do you find your study of ancient literature helpful in your creative writings?
PCK Prem: It is difficult to focus on the origin of inspiration when you are engaged in varied functions. Sublimation and merger of experiences and feelings become automatically the origin and stimulation of an artistic work. I studied ancient literature of different countries in the beginning without any purpose. In creative work, you go back and back, and then come back to past, present and future to find bearing of time and space on life, and you read, cherish myths and legends, strengthen intuitiveness within, interpret and define life. Not easy but it stirs and provokes. One is inclined to argue that ancient literature, history, culture, and allusions to these, hold rationale if read in proper perspective.
Arora: How far is the knowledge of the past helpful in creating and recreating present and future in order to trace the meaning of life?
PCK Prem: Concept of God, soul and reincarnation is ancient I am persuaded to say. Interpretation of past, present and future imparts meaning to a man’s life. When a man talks of genealogy or heritage, he tries to justify living and life, and obviously, mythology surfaces and resurfaces. At this age, primeval and current thoughts intervene and inspire. Invoking muse is an expression of a deep feeling, a concretization of a sensation, a materialization of a thought almost similar to a painting, a sculpture or a statuette ready to speak but awaiting appropriate language and voice and an interpreter. An experience of a moment defines memory I believe.
Arora: Sir, you are a prolific author. You have more than fifty books to your credit. Creation and criticism are poles apart. How do you manage your creative and critical impulses?
PCK Prem: Routine work engages a man without a breather. In government, one finds working situation chaotic but it is also meaningful schedule of files with a pleasant ineffectuality at times. A world of books always appeared exotic and a bit romantic. One ought to evaluate everything, words and acts. You dissect men, matters and incidents, big or small. If one is not directly concerned, even then extraneous factors, influence and so one has to find a way out of official and personal imbroglios. If, one is an author, one ought to know how to reconcile, and in the merger of the official and the personal, one finds reality of life and at that time, life appears to offer meaning and incongruity in purpose. If one knows the meaning of daily work, even if it is without purpose, life appears exciting. Abuse and fierce words at times, offer meaning.
Arora: Life is to be lived meaningfully. Are your satisfied with your life? Do you get any meaning in life? How far do emotions play role in getting objectives in life?
PCK Prem: If one works honestly, it satisfies. A man engaged in unlawful activities is never at peace. Peace does not exist if a man nurtures corrupt outlook. I interacted with a wide range of people in a variety of situations. Physical ailments linked with political and bureaucratic life, chase and disturb, which I would not reiterate. However, they invariably provoked me to creative writing after a gap of ten years, a good escape from the unhealthy environment I would say. Yes, it is difficult to fight a lonely battle.
I am of the opinion that many nurse self-interests to whatever class they belong to and also do not have enough work or probably do not want to work and so minds work in different directions with not a very conducive influence on society. Mostly, it drives to unethical lifestyle, greed, and here, corruption and immorality take roots. For many, who have nothing worthwhile to do what next is the question that crops up? That is why I call it an amusing vainness or futility. It provides sufficient stuff to deliberate. You are attached to people and work, and do not forget that you get money for the work you do. Nobody, big or small does any charity, for public pays… It is absolute hypocrisy if you call it public service. I work because I get money, it is with everyone, and people pay for what I do, or did in the past. If one says that he serves people, it is huge fallacy and dishonesty. Exceptions exist I accept.
Experiences electrify critical faculties and tempt to analyze men and matters in spite of certain aberrations and exceptions. I understand if time is organized and managed properly, and one gives reasonable space and time without scope for gossips and politicking to each action, life turns meaningful. It appears logical but one is invariably prone to volatile vagaries of thoughts and emotions and so, one ought to restrain wayward emotions and approach the desired objective.
Arora: Sir, I know that a creative author has many challenges before him. How far do you convey the cultural, social, political and philosophical ethos through various genres?
PCK Prem: A creative writer loves his writings and in each, he pours out feelings and thoughts with or without prejudice. He tries to give the best and wants readers to know him through the thoughts he communicates through writing. Whatever I wrote I tried to rationalize. Story is a singular vehicle to convey a simple thought through a few characters whereas a novel encompasses the entire life as history, heritage, culture, traditions, and therefore, ethos of a particular period intervene that at times, runs to a few hundred years. It is an age, which becomes a major concern of the author. ‘Kalkhand’ a Hindi novel I wrote covers a period of two hundred years with more than one thousand characters where an age of challenges, trials and tribulations finds expression with history, culture and heritage as the background and took more than six years to complete. In poetry, I take up life of a man, society and cultural ethos in a vibrantly sensitive manner and probe into the entangled and twisted feelings of the inner man, who lives at many levels and finds no peace. It is an expression of a subliminal man at the conscious level.
Arora: How far is the critic in you helpful to the creative author in you? Sir, you have written Kaalkhand, a historical novel which sums up life in totality. Please share in brief the very theme of this novel.
PCK Prem: To an author each word, he writes is equally important but then as a critic, he must be cautious. Novel gives a thrust to past, present and future and its ethos. It is an effort to live with the spirit and culture of age. It moves to past and then returns to live in the present. It is about evil and, it speaks about integrity of life. It is about people, region and a country. It talks about the growth and expansion of intellect and material well-being, and of ethics. Good and ethical living is the objective of a good writing but it should touch ugliness of life, an essential part and if the expression is artistically and aesthetically sound it appeals. Man’s life and living form the foundation of ‘Kaalkhand’. ‘Kaalkhand’ is a novel written against historical background, talks of life in totality. I touched life from all possible aspects that interpret history and culture and its ethical standards. I say ‘it is a serious work of literary art characterized by historical overtones and vast sweep.’ ‘KaalKhand’ (A Slice of Time) is a tale of two centuries in historical perspective with a fictionalized backdrop and it runs into twenty three hundred pages with more than one thousand characters.
Arora: Can an author be objective while writing? Do you think so? Is it not the ink of subjectivity that begins to flow through the pen?
PCK Prem: It is difficult to separate subjective approach to writing all the time I hold. Whatever one writes, it is observation, experience and explanation as said elsewhere. It is also not very easy to sift subjective from the objective. Intensity of experience and nonaligned appraisal of situations and relations can eliminate autobiographical element in a creative work. To write objectively is a painful experience. To some extent, a creative writer cannot be objective. In such a massive work, a writer cannot brush aside imperceptible incidents relating to family background. While writing this long novel, I interacted with many old men who took birth around 1880 and lived on to relate certain personal experiences about people, history and India. English novels mostly relate to study of educated, rich and powerful men, the self-styled arbiters of people’s destiny. At another level, ‘A Night of Storms’ enquires men at the psychological level with a different approach, which I consider quite interesting. Yes, I must admit, creative writing in English talks about sophistication, crudity and elitists’ hypocrisy of urban splendour and ugliness. I believe, this segment professes to guide society so to say.
Arora: Indian English poetry has registered its presence now through Indian roots and cultural ethos. What do you think about the future of Indian poetry in English?
PCK Prem: I would also call it English Poetry in India. Now, affect of so-called colonial hang over is gone. English authors rooted to the soil of India depict its art, culture and heritage whether at the regional or national level, with a kind of completeness. It has universal and secular approach. Indian English literature needs scrutiny because pure Indian consciousness will determine its horizons. After years of thriving in a particular country, a language gets down to the soil I feel. Undoubtedly, English poetry in India has a bright and meaningful future.
I say, English creative writing in India as I said earlier has registered its presence. It is Indian-ness in its beauty. A kind of reluctance in certain quarters for obvious reasons exists but such negligible anomalies are natural because creative artists do favour certain fixations despite stress of objectivity and as such, one visualizes a brilliant future.
Arora: Now Indian Writing in English has its firm roots in Indian soil. How far do you take it to be a part of Indian Literature?
PCK Prem: It is slowly gaining grounds. For English Literature, it took many centuries to arrive at the present stage of fulfillment though experiments are still on. Movement of literature takes time particularly when one speaks of English Literature in India, an Indian author must realize. Indian writers are rooted to the soil, and creatively express feelings and intellectual predicaments in Indian idioms, nuances and linguistics niceties with universal and multi-ethnic appeal, I believe. Indian cultural ethos is inseparable from any creative process. Contemporary English creative writers in India I mean… perhaps do not accept a reminder that speaks of disgusting and unethical behavior of the then rulers with its historical and cultural perspective. At the same time, they are aware of what happens today.
Arora: How do you judge yourself as a bureaucrat? Do you find the application of the ethical values in the relations?
PCK Prem: Mildness and humility is weakness, I learnt at certain crucial moments. When you are tough, unpleasant times are ahead in life. A question of survival dominates a bureaucrat’s thinking, a survival instinct in an age of uncertainty when men and ethics change. When survival is supreme, one compromises. When one does not bend, one breaks. I hope you understand. In times of moral crisis and in an age of uncertainty where conduct of man is suspect, it is difficult to live at peace. I did not have very soft and mild experiences as a babu and it was a difficult job for me, at least. However, I learnt a lot from bureaucrats and netas. Alliance or friendship with these people continues until you finish up with a cup of coffee. I cherish little bitter feelings, at times pleasant carping ridicule because lessons were lasting and important. If one is a creative writer, the anguish is much more intense and healthy. It is alleged that they govern, preach, earn and forget people and symptoms spread around to cover the left out. Ethics is crippled and smeared. Exemplary conduct is illusive these days I feel. It is an enigma but I believe things will be better. Perhaps, relations do suffer in such a mindset.
Arora: Have you ever felt regret? How did you continue your literary pursuit? How do you take your experiences in teaching and administration?
PCK Prem: No, not as you suggest. I am still obliged to experiences I earned as a bureaucrat. One comes across diverse segments of society. From a beggar in the street, you walk up to a business tycoon and public/political men and in between, you measure a distance filled with many multifaceted persons. Relationship with men at various levels teaches and it perturbs. It is also treacherous. To hear and to listen is a great lesson. To talk out is itself a big achievement if it is with understanding. Nevertheless, for literary pursuits- for appropriate creative work and critical work- you ought to have your time, clearly set apart and beyond the reach of official hang-ups. I believe that creativity fills gaps in space and empty time.
I nursed a desire to see life in totality. In teaching I realized, something restrained. To project an image of a man was not possible. Man as a man I mean. I do not think I was a man of discipline but I wanted to live with a set of reasonably pragmatic rules and principles of life. Another thought always assailed mind that teaching is an ideal profession and all else is corrupt. Again, it was a fallacy of those years. Then, schedule did not help. Questions regarding morality arose and obstacles too appeared strong. I hope you understand. I must say politics did appeal but after going through the character of politicking, love for reading strengthened and helped in pursuing literary tastes and it was satisfying experience, I must confess.
Arora: Do you think that persons, events and writing of great authors influence a creative author? Do the memories in the form of experiences begin to influence the mind in the process of writing and evaluation?
PCK Prem: Various Influences work at different levels- experiential and inspirational. Any incident, word, image or echo of a moment inspires and the itch to express tempts as something baffles and I realize a restrained break in language and inspiration. Memories indistinctly concretize as an understated sieving begins, and the process not only allures and stumps but also appears painful. People and environment around urge to delve deep into the mystery of life. Everyone wants to share thoughts and emotions, while participation in life imparts meaning. If one cancels a vague and sometime explicit constituent of partaking, one cuts life to a mere animal existence. Life is a great creation and in it is inherent different designs of life and only a creative artist can gather tiny particles of experiences as one interacts and choice is entirely personal and not frosty. Nobody can ignore persons, events and writings of great authors that one read in the past or reads in the present.
Arora: You write novel. You write short story. In which genre do you find more comfortable? What are the characteristics that a creative artist should be equipped with?
PCK Prem: While writing a story, I work on a thought or an incident or a person positioned in a certain peculiar or difficult situation. I experience each incident and word as if transferred to me and later on, in loneliness and silent moments, I recapture the face, reconstruct the incident, feel the joys or anguish and then, try to shape it in a language. To give form in a language to a certain experience or a transferred feeling is not entirely a convenient process, for one never reaches depths of experience. Language has limitations and one should reconcile to this aspect in a creative art. To write a novel is a journey into complexities of human experiences. A novelist explores psychological and intellectual world even as he meticulously analyzes social, economic, political, religious historical and philosophical perspective operating at a particular time.
Do characters take birth in imagination or…Equipped with the knowledge of society, a novelist should evaluate crosscurrents that determine the framework of society and the world as a whole. One cannot create or invent characters in a vacuum, for he must depict life, and the delineation ought to meet standards of quality and genuineness envisaged. If he dissects the intellect and psyche of the society and its people, and feels disturbed, he appears to take a right path I believe. A novelist should define a path clearly, so that the message he wishes to communicate reaches the targeted region. Therefore, it is not possible to say that it is easy to write a short story or a novel. Yes, story requires a few sittings, at times only one and if confusion arises, an author is jammed up.
A creative artist needs tremendous patience, knowledge, analytical power, wisdom to understand and envision times past and future if he sits down to write a novel. Regular sitting in a day for months together enriches a creative work. Yes, a writer experiences pains, agonies and challenges of characters he creates or else he will fail to impart authenticity to the storyline.
An interesting situation arises at times, while writing a novel, a character of powerful philosophical and emotional dimensions, guides an author to a different direction and something unique comes out.
Arora: What inspires you to write? What substances have you got out of your experiences as a bureaucrat for your creative writings?
PCK Prem: A man operates at various levels but is seldom conscious. A complex working of mind it is and the inner man understands. Working at divergent living-patterns creates genuine problems. During college days, I did write but suddenly a break stopped creative work and after teaching, I turned to bureaucratic life. I observed life at different levels with frustrating grasp of situation. If a man scrutinizes influences, it reveals certain hidden aspects of life.
Possibly, ability to exhibit patience and exasperation at the same time irritated and disturbed, but later on, inspired me to confront challenging situations, and alternately it helped maintaining creativity at different stages adequately. For a creative artist, strenuous work or for that matter work of any sort infuses new energy and benefits and sharing feelings and thoughts at the idealistic and emotional level is of great relevance.
Writing is exclusive as an art and perhaps yes, it is a compulsion at times, and so an impulse must not be a burden but a spontaneous creative act. Experience, thoughts, feelings and failures in a bureaucrat taught a lot and thus, as an author I tried to synthesize distortions of life as I said earlier.
Arora: Would you please share the names of some books that have influenced you most?
PCK Prem: Many novels in Hindi and English attracted for different reasons. Relations among men and women at multiple stages inspired and provoked. Mahabharata, Devdas, Anandmath, Jahaaz ka Panchhi, Godan, The Final Circle, Jude, Glass Bead Game, Les Miserables, For the New Intellectual, Fountainhead, Ideas, A Terrible Beauty, Intellectuals …to name a few. No written word or word spoken is ever a waste. It conveys and teaches provided one has the ear and the patience to find substance.
Arora: Would you please share the names of some of your favourites?
PCK Prem: Ayn Rand for unique philosophy of objectivism speaks about the many layers of intellect and provokes one to reach reality of life while disturbing with passion and warmth. From another point of view, I feel Tagore, Radhakrishnan, Peter Watson, Eric Hobsbawm, Paul Johnson, Solzhenitsyn, Bertrand Russell… fascinate.
Arora: How do you feel after writing? Do you find any difficult moment in writing? How does the feeling of incompleteness affect you?
PCK Prem: At times, one confronts irrational manifestations of emotions and thoughts, and here arises a puzzling issue of finding relation among words and ideas and therefore, one wanders around incompleteness. One suffers from imperfection, and it challenges not only a creative mind but also threatens a critic. However, none arrives at a definite conclusion. It is quite exciting.
Arora: Thank you very much Sir for sharing your experiences as a creative artist as well as a bureaucrat. Namaste…
PCK Prem: Namaste….All the best…..
Sudhir K. Arora (b.1968) teaches English at Maharaja Harishchandra P. G. College, Moradabad affiliated to M. J. P. Rohilkhand University, Bareilly. He has several significant publications to his credit including Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger: A Freakish Booker and Cultural and Philosophical Reflections in Indian Poetry in English in Five Volumes.