Friday, April 27, 2012

Wings of Freedom by Ratan Kaul: Interview & Excerpt

A cross-cultural romance set during the fury of British imperialism and the social-cultural divide in early twentieth-century turbulent British India.

It’s the year 1911. King George the Fifth is due in Delhi for his coronation celebration. A devastating fire in the royal camp gives rise to speculations of sabotage and an assassination attempt by the Indian revolutionaries. Will the British police be able to unveil real cause of the blaze?

Raju, a college student, struggling to establish his identity in the charged atmosphere of India’s freedom struggle is caught up in the vortex of violent passions as two of his innocent friends are made scapegoats for the blaze by the British police and murdered. Thus begins Raju’s relentless journey against colonial rule and the economic exploitation of India.

A passionate romance with Eileen, the daughter of a British officer, keeps Raju inspired in their roller-coaster ride against the backdrop of British imperialism, turbulent political conflicts, the fury of the freedom revolution, the catastrophic first World War and the racial, cultural and social divisions in the post-Edwardian era.


The book has moved on to the second round of 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.

Tell us about your current release.

Wings of Freedom, released recently as a kindle book on Amazon, is a historical romance novel. It depicts a passionate cross-cultural romance defying the fury of intense political, cultural and social divide in turbulent British India. The story is accentuated by the backdrop of coronation celebration of King George V amid speculation of sabotage, freedom revolution swirling furiously in the country and the ravages of World War I.

I’m taking the liberty to give an excerpt below from a review on Amazon that aptly sums up the features of this novel:

 Any readers of historical romance will really love this novel. Kaul has created a wonderful story dealing with amazing fictional characters during the British occupation of India in during the early 1900s. It's a story of forbidden love, society ideals, betrayal, and danger.”

   Kaul is a fabulous writer, engrossing the reader in his story as the beautiful descriptions, the gripping action, and the sweeping romance all come together to create a wonderful novel that I couldn't put down. I am not usually a reader of historical novels, yet Kaul's historical fiction is fabulous and I would recommend it to anyone.”

        Tell us about a favorite character from your book.

Eileen, the female protagonist in the novel, is my favorite. Looking at her, you’d think of her as a sweet, beautiful, bubbly woman on the threshold of adulthood.  But inside, she is intensely emotional and sensitive, suffering the plight of a motherless child that is accentuated by her being trapped between the powerful currents of her British parentage and her love for India, where she was born and brought up.

She is an effervescent child till she loses her mother at the age of ten. That transforms her and makes her a kind of recluse, craving for a shoulder on which she could rest her head, cry and shed her grief. Because of these inner conflicts she also gets recurrent, mysterious dreams of boating in the River Jumna flowing close to her house, with a call from some supernatural source. Her personality continues to remain suppressed till she meets Raju, the male protagonist and then their romance, maturing from a subtle to a passionate level with rendezvouses on boats and in old castles and monuments frees her from her shackles resulting in the  culmination of her ‘predictive dreaming’ episodes. This also makes her a determined woman, ready to defy the political and social order in the colonial India.

It won’t be an exaggeration if I say that at times I became sentimental while writing her character.

        Who is your favorite author?

The name of Mary Margaret Kaye comes at the top. In fact, I’ve been inspired by her novels, most prominent out of them being The Far Pavilions, which depicts the story of a passionate but dangerous cross cultural love between an Englishman and an Indian princess.

           As you’d know The Far Pavilions, which was published in 1978, sold millions of copies and inspired a popular television adaptation as well as a musical play. 

           However, my novel, Wings of Freedom, has a vital distinction as it’s written from an Indian’s point of view, and reflects the aspirations of the Indian masses during the turbulent colonial period. Moreover, with the Indian authorship, it depicts appropriately the locales, language, dresses, social customs and flavor of the Indian society as it existed a hundred years ago.

Is there one passage in your book that you feel gets to the heart of your book and would encourage people to read it?  If so, can you share it? 

Here’s a passage that I intentionally put in the prologue to give the readers a feel of the setting,  period of the novel,  intense political and social conflicts during the colonial rule and the hint of a budding romance.  

             “His eyes flickered away to the rear of the lobby, which opened onto the beach.   Restlessly, he got up and walked out the door toward the stone steps descending to the water’s edge.  Stepping down, he gazed at the enormity of the Arabian Sea and its turbulent waves, frothing as they lashed at the large stone boulders skirting the retaining wall.
              The waves gradually coalesced in his mind to a collage of images: meetings with Eileen over the last five years, the love she had for India, her culture, her traditions, her language and him.
              Raj’s mind raced, reliving the intensity, the sublimity of their love, which transcended the barriers of race, religion and society in tumultuous times--when many countries were in the grip of British colonial rule and when India was struggling for her freedom.  He gazed back to December of 1911 when he--then fondly called Raju--felt the caressing touch of the hand of a bubbly English girl of eighteen during the coronation celebrations of King George the Fifth near the Red Fort in Delhi.”

 Does your novel cover mostly the events in India or does it have a shade of what was happening in other parts of the world in the early twentieth century?
Besides interweaving the fiction with threads of important historical events in India, the novel has the back drop of World War I, tracing the events prior to the great war-- the Balkan War and the assassination of Francis Ferdinand at Sarajevo-- Britain joining the war, the ravages of trench warfare in Belgium and other war theatres in severe winters, where inexperienced recruits from the colonies were deployed in forward positions.
The social and political conflicts prevailing in England in the pre–war period, particularly the women’s suffrage movement and the rise of trade unionism, too find a place in the novel. 

       Where did you do research for this book?

 The first draft stage took me to government archives, museums and libraries as also the cyberspace, browsing for archival documents, particularly the early twentieth century editions of New York Times, Illustrated London News and Reuters.

  This was later supplemented by visits to the monuments, heritage sites, buildings and memorials constructed during colonial India as also actual locales in the novels to provide an authentic flavor of culture and traditions as they existed in early twentieth century.

           Do you have a Website or Blog?

           Yes. I’d be glad if the readers visit these sites and post their comments. 




Some Excerpts from the novel

1. William Smith’s office was enveloped in the fragrance of gladioli and chrysanthemums from the flower bed near the window. It mingled with the smoke of a lighted cigarette that was burning slowly on a groove in a crystal glass ashtray on the desk. But in his anguished state, Smith was oblivious to both.
A year ago, Smith had been appointed to the secretariat of “Coronation Durbar Committee” and his office was relocated to a spacious building in Civil Lines, the area exclusively reserved for the British. The Union Jack fluttering on top of the stately red-bricked building and a framed photograph of King George in the high-ceilinged room added a royal aura.
In such a setting, Smith should normally have been cheerful, but instead, he paced up and down the room with frown lines on his forehead and a sagging jaw. The reason was the blaze in the camp that took over a day to bring under control. He was aware that the Viceroy in Calcutta and the Secretary of State in London wouldn’t tolerate any mistakes, large or small, in the organization of that history-making event. He was in that restless, agitated state when the door to his office burst open and his clerk, Gopal, entered. “Excuse me, sir. There’s a cable from the Viceroy’s office,” said Gopal, standing at attention.”
William read the cable: “RE: PREVIOUS CABLE. POSTPONE ENQUIRY. INCREASE TROOPS. DEPLOY MORE FIRE TENDERS.” He hastily folded the paper and thrust it in his pocket without a change in his expression, as he’d made it a habit not to betray his reactions before a native.
“Gopal, get me all the files of construction projects…fast, and I’m not to be disturbed for one hour,”he said, snapping his fingers loudly--enough of a signal for Gopal to withdraw hastily to his own office.
These inefficient natives must be put in their place, Smith thought, twirling his thick brown bushy mustache. Now, he needed to put control of all the arrangements in the hands of British officers and rework the security and safety schedule.
2.              When Eileen woke the next morning, Mrs. Lawrence, the matronly caretaker in Fraser household, was at her bedside. The phonograph, with the brass horn and amber wooden case, at other end of the room was playing Eileen’s favorite romantic melody, “Briggs Fair.”  Mrs. Lawrence generally used such ploys to wake her up gently.
                “Good morning, my child,” Mrs. Lawrence said, pressing her lips softly on Eileen’s forehead. “I’ve been trying to wake you for the last half an hour…. having a dream?” Her tone held a blend of affection and admonition.
                “Yes, Mrs. Lawrence. A strange dream,” said Eileen, still groggy with sleep.
                Mrs. Lawrence lifted the metal arm with the needle on the phonograph.  As the music stopped, she pulled a chair close to Eileen’s bed.  “Tell me dear, what did you see?”
                Eileen rubbed her eyes and sat up. “I was on the bank of a river. It was dawn and the sky was flecked with patches of clouds having various shades--purple, orange-red, silver-gray--and at some places blending with each other. Impulsively, I jumped into a boat docked there and it started moving toward the opposite bank.”
               “Oh, did it scare you?”
                Eileen’s face brightened. “No, I enjoyed it. When the boat rocked with the waves, water splashed on my face and hair. On reaching the other bank, I found myself in the midst of lots of trees with beautiful blossoms. As I moved ahead, I heard distant notes of a flute, which made me tap my feet and then dance with ecstasy to the tune.  I felt I had wings and I was flying. That’s when I woke up.”
                    She straightened her nightdress and moved to the window. Putting her elbows on the sill and cupping her face with her hands, she looked out. The Jumna River, which was just across the boulevard facing her house, flowed majestically with its waves reflecting the sun’s rays. Vast stretches of blossoming trees on the opposite bank, their branches rustling in the wind, thrilled her.
  3.               They walked up slowly through the thick growth of trees.  A moist wind blew, carrying a whiff of Kadamba and Mallika flowers, when they spotted a swamp.    
                 “Look at the painted stork and flamingoes! What a lovely sight,” Eileen said.
                 “These birds have migrated from Siberia and …” Raju began.
                 Eileen heard his description of the migratory birds, but her mind was elsewhere; she was looking curiously at two rosy pelicans with pouches under their bills, extending their necks in a mating dance.
                 The sky gradually became overcast, and thunder and lightning popped up. Raju started climbing a hill. “Why are you going up?” she asked. “This weather could be dangerous.”
                 Raju smiled. “I want to have a look at the river from the top.”
                 Eileen was resting on a stone slab and didn’t move. “No, I’m tired…and I’m happy sitting here, watching the birds.”
                 Raju went up anyway, and soon reached a plateau at the top. “Eileen!” he shouted.
                 Eileen looked up. Raju was silhouetted against the setting sun. Suddenly, she imagined the scene to be the last part of her dream, which had always been hazy. The thought put her in a trance. Involuntarily, she got up and started climbing, step by step. She paused, trying to fathom what was happening to her.  But the call was there…the call from the unknown.
                  In a few moments, she again heard, “Eileen!” resonating from the top. She started again as if she were sleepwalking, feeling a subtle blend of consciousness and sub-consciousness, till she reached the plateau. She realized the time for the culmination of her dream had come.
                 She stood there with her eyes fixed on Raju. It began to rain and a gust of wind snapped at the end of her saree, sliding it down. Unmindful of her drenched blouse, she advanced further toward Raju, who also had his shirt soaked with rain. Their fingers touched, hands slid to arms, and then her heaving, wet bosom brushed against Raju’s chest. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and she clasped his back, digging her fingers into his ribs, looking him in the face. 
                 Her wet lips trembled, and then she felt his lips brushing hers. She closed her eyes and allowed her lips to part. As she felt the tentative touch of his warm tongue, warmth spread in her body. For a few moments, the world came to a standstill. The only sounds were the rumbles from the overcast sky.
                  A few moments later, she loosened her clasp and moved back a step.  She felt all her stress drift away, though her heart still pounded. 
                 “Raju, at last I feel freed from the dream that’s kept me captive for so many years,” she said, fumbling with her saree drape and wrapping it around her again.
                  Raju stood gazing at her. He reached for her hand and they walked toward a stone slab. They sat there with Eileen’s head resting on Raju’s chest and Raju running his fingers through her hair. They held hands in silence, watching a pair of swans with white plumage making high-pitched, quavering mating calls, while painted storks, black-headed ibis and sarus cranes floated in the air.   
                “It had to happen.” Eileen broke the silence with a whisper.
                “Yes,” Raju said.   He bent his head and kissed the back of her hand, holding his lips there a few moments. Eileen watched him quietly and brought her cheek close to his.                                
                 Soon, Eileen saw the crimson sun dipping down below the horizon and she straightened. The splendid, magical moments had to end. “Time to return now,” she said.
                  All was silent, except the strains of music in her heart, her mind, her body as   she watched Raju rowing the boat under the slender branches overhanging the bank. 

Ratan Kaul is an Indian author living in New Delhi. Though he had a long career in corporate management, he has been an ardent student of history, particularly relating to the British Indian period. He loves writing historical fiction as it gives him an opportunity to delve into the archived historical manuscripts and documents that provide an insight into what transpired back in time.

The serendipitous moment for writing his historical romance novel "Wings of Freedom" came to him when he visited the memorial obelisk at the coronation park in Delhi commemorating the coronation celebrations of the British Emperor King George V in Delhi in 1911. After publishing this novel depicting the cross-cultural romance during British India of early twentieth century, on Amazon, he is now writing a sequel to it.

Besides his interest in reading historical novels and writing fiction in that genre, he is working as a consultant and an arbitrator. He co-authored a book on Arbitration: Procedure and Practice, published by LexisNexis Butterworth Wadhwa in 2009. He has delivered lectures on arbitration and also contributed papers for seminars.

More information about him can be viewed on his website and he can be reached at email @

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Ratan Kaul said...

I'm delighted to see this excellent feature on Wings of Freedom. Thanks a lot.

Debby said...

Great post. I enjoyed reading it.
debby236 at gmail dot com

mountainmama said...

What a beautiful story Ratan, and a great interview. I was glad to see you had mentioned the author of Far Pavilions as one of your inspirations - that's exactly what your book reminded me of the first time I saw it. Best of luck - your book is on my wish list!!

Gale Nelson said...

Thanks for the giveaway. Great interview. Gale