Creativity during Corona
23 February 2021
Dr Mahul Brahma is a luxury commentator, columnist and author of The Luxe Trilogy, which comprises three books – Decoding Luxe, Dark Luxe and Luxe Inferno.
Dr Brahma is a columnist on luxury with leading national newspaper DNA, and has earlier been writing for The Economic Times. He has worked as senior editor and in several other capacities with leading media houses such as The Economic Times, DNA, CNBC TV 18 group and Reuters. He is an award-winning leader in communications, CSR, digital marketing and branding. He heads CSR, corporate communications and branding in a Tata group company, mjunction.
He is a short filmmaker and his works have been selected and screened at prestigious film festivals like Cannes Film Festival, Berlin Short Film Festival and Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival. He is an alumnus of St Xaviers College (Calcutta), SSSUTMS, MICA (Ahmedabad), IIM Calcutta, and University of Cambridge - Judge Business School. Dr Brahma is an artist and loves to play golf.
In this interview with Swetha Amit, Dr Brahma talks about the idea behind his latest book titled, Quarantined, inspiration behind his characters and the impact of pandemic on human emotions.
1. What inspired Quarantined: Love in the time of Corona?
Blame it on the quarantine, the lockdown that we are in. During my quarantine, I wanted to explore the lives of others who are my co-passengers in this ordeal. I wanted to know when our mechanised lives are forced to become human and we are forced to break our routines, forced to relook at our lives as well as our relationships, and last but not the least, forced to give time to things and people who really matter, that too unlimited, what happens? In addition, for a writer, creativity is your only trusted friend. Therefore, I created these characters, these protagonists and put them in the same premise of the quarantine and watch them respond and react to different scenarios that I toyed with as a writer. Finally, as they say, the beauty of a short story is that you can travel to the end of the world and can be back before dinner. Therefore, I did my share of travel and made it back before dinner, literally.
2. Where were the characters in your stories inspired from?
The protagonists -- doctor, male escort, college girl, CEO, call centre executive and actor – as well as the other key characters are inspired from life itself. They are the people we come across in our daily lives, including our family, friends and colleagues, or even virtually via social media or television or cinema.
Life has always been my biggest source of inspiration.
3. Most of the stories in your book explore the dark side of love. Do you feel that these dark times have brought out the worst in human emotions?
The quarantine is a very unique event in our lives. Even generations who have seen the World Wars confess that it is most dangerous when the real enemy is not visible. The biggest tactical disadvantage that we have in this war against COVID 19 is that you can’t trust anyone. From a stranger to your co-passenger to your next-door-neighbour, just anyone can transmit the Corona virus to you. It is as if the virus is a shapeshifter and can take any form or shape.
Thus, social distancing has become the grand narrative, and the only way to fight the war, break the chain of the spread of Corona.
The quarantine has become a norm rather than an exception during this war against the killer virus. And in these extreme times of extreme measures the intensity of emotions and feelings are at an extreme. Our mind recalibrates towards survival, just like in a jungle, and that recalibration warrants a heightened level of instincts and emotions. It is bound to get ugly as we are consciously not calibrated for survival, we are calibrated to follow our daily routines. So, we all feel confused with the new set of instincts and emotions that suddenly come rushing by, for better or for worse.
So, dark love is a symbol of the dark times we are in.
The quarantine has irreversibly changed lives. The world is no longer the same. And dark love has its sway in the time of Corona!
4. In the story of the close call, it is showcased that in the quest to be ambitious, a woman was willing to indulge in adultery and betrayal. Does ambition come at a cost?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept;
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man
Whenever I think of ambition, these immortal lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar come to my mind. Yes, ambition should be made of ‘sterner stuff’. Let us consider an ideal world, if the protagonist Aasma had not betrayed or committed adultery and would have focused entirely on her work and channeled her ambition in a positive and productive way, wouldn’t she have risen the ranks? Of course, she would have. May not be at that office, may not be at the pace she aspires, but of course she would have risen and that rise would have been more consistent and steady and irrespective of her boss. Now the zeal to perform consistently is also ambition. However, will that not cost him or her personal time and relationship? It is not betrayal, no but still at some level, you are choosing your ambition over your family. We should not be judgmental and label Aasma. She is right and on track as per her definition of ambition and growth. For her the cost is adultery and betrayal, and she has come to terms with it.
There is nothing right or wrong when it comes to ambition as it always comes at a cost. The cost of ambition is very personal, it may be family or relationships, it may be values, or it may be time or something more precious to you. Ambition, by its very nature, and always, in a cost-benefit analysis will seem as the right choice, at any cost.
5. As in your story, there are many cases where people have failed to quarantine themselves after a foreign travel. What is your opinion on this sort of irresponsibility?
It is extremely sad that literate and aware people, including some known personalities, have shown such irresponsibility towards the society. Knowing fully well that they are no less than a bio-weapon, if they are already infected, and can contaminate hundreds with a deadly virus like Corona, they have shown complete disregard of the safety and well-being of the society they live in. It is no less than an act of bio-terrorism, wherein you are deliberately threatening lives of innocent people, which include you, your readers, and me. It is just sad and they should be brought to justice.
6. Another story in your book showcases a compromise on family time due to busy schedules in the corporate world. Do you feel that this lockdown in a way is a positive aspect for loved ones to spend that quality time?
The Imperfect Square to a great extent describes the reality of corporate life and how it has the potential to adversely impact our personal lives. There is a need to maintain a fine balance between work and life. However, as stated earlier, ambition can always tip the balance. My father always used to tell me that you cannot control a situation but you can always make the best out of it. This is a very special time, a time to introspect, a time to give a hard look at your life. And, when it comes to a question of existence, every equation that defines your life is modified.
Just imagine that you will no longer be able to use the justification for not giving adequate time to yourself or to your family by saying, “I just can’t make time from my busy schedule”. Suddenly, you have unlimited time and that too with your loved ones and to yourself. You will hear an oft-repeated complaint that people can’t make time for themselves to follow their passion or exercise, or meditate, or just sit and do nothing in Zazen. In today’s quarantined state, the excuse will no longer work, so you are forced to follow your passion and give time to yourself and your loved ones.
7. Two of your stories explore the theme of betrayal. What is it that causes people to resort to something like this?
When I write a story, I do not judge my characters. I accept them as they are with their flaws, weaknesses and strengths. So, for these characters in the two stories – Close Call and Parasite -- betrayal is a means to achieve a desired end. Betrayal to these characters is no more than a medium that will help them survive, grow and prosper. It is just a cost they are ready to pay to achieve what they desire the most. While in one case the desired outcome is ambition, in the other case it is to prosper and milk the host for all its worth. So it is all a part of your choice architecture, primarily based on your value system and ambition, whether you will use betrayal or not as a potential means to achieve your goal.
8. One of your stories showcases how a doctor lost a battle as a father to protect his daughter. Do you think that the world would win the battle of the Corona war? What are your views on this?
I am certain that the world will win this battle against Corona. Because for every irresponsible person, who disregard the safety of his fellow beings, there are lakhs of people who are fighting day and night to save lives and provide essential services to their fellow beings. In the end, humanity will vanquish the virus.
However, this war against Corona is shaping up a completely new world order – new Superpowers will emerge, new mega trends will evolve, the world economy will hardly remain recognizable, and moreover, you and I will have a new life.
9. What are your other books in the pipeline?
I have some initial thoughts on a plot for a novel, which I will share once they crystallize. However, I am taking a much-deserved break right now. Something that I thought I will do after release of the third book of The Luxe Trilogy this month. I was taking a well-deserved break after launching the three books of the trilogy, Decoding Luxe, Dark Luxe and finally Luxe Inferno, back-to-back, in three consecutive years. Then, Covid-19 happened and I was locked down at home, quarantined.
Therefore, the idea came into my mind to write something that every person will be able to relate to. That is how I started writing the book on the second day of the lockdown with a target that I should be able to make it available to my readers during the quarantine and lockdown. I usually take a year to finish my book. However, this was a special case, and in 10 straight days and 10 straight nights, the book was ready and on 12 April 2020, it was launched in a virtual literary festival, eLit.
So, after Quarantined, I have all the intentions of taking it easy for a while.