In a world marked by fervent changes and radical upheavals, one author’s literary journey takes us back to the pulsating heart of the late 1960s.
Entrepreneur-author Nidhi Dalmia, known for his debut novel ‘Harp’ in 2016, returns with his latest work Afternoon.
The book was released in May, 2023 at the residence of French Ambassador and the launch was moderated by renowned actor and celebrity Kabir Bedi.
Set across San Francisco, New York, Delhi, and Kashmir in the 1960s, the novel follows the intertwining lives of a young student and two women, tracing their evolving relationships over the years as they discover love.
One woman, a Kashmiri Muslim raised in Delhi, clings to memories of her homeland, while the other, an American Field Service worker from New York, finds her life reshaped by a transformative visit to India.
Against the backdrop of major political events in the 1960s, their intercontinental bond faces unexpected challenges. This narrative weaves their stories amid the era’s intellectual, cultural, and student revolutions, ultimately exploring the impact of choices and uncontrollable forces on life’s trajectory.
In a candid interview with the Patriot, Nidhi Dalmia discusses his latest novel Afternoon.
Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: An alumnus of St. Stephen’s College at the University of Delhi, I pursued postgraduate education at Oxford University in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE), and at the Sorbonne (France). I also gained post-experience management education at Harvard Business School. I have worked as trainee in factories in Finland, Norway, and in Express Dairy in the United Kingdom, and spent time in Communist Poland. I obtained my doctorate in Strategic Management from the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur. My professional journey involved managing Dalmia Biscuits in Rajpura, Punjab, and Edward Keventers in Delhi, producing various dairy products. Additionally, I participated in senior management programs, conducted by the All India Management Association in Srinagar, and other locations, as well as at the Administrative Staff College of India in Hyderabad and IIM Ahmedabad.
Q: Can you share your personal journey from being a student at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi to pursuing postgraduate education at Oxford University and the Sorbonne? How did these experiences shape your worldview and aspirations?
A: My time at the Sorbonne exposed me to the rich world of French civilisation and literature. At Oxford, Economics had become more mathematical, and the extensive weekly reading lists in each subject taught me independence and not seeking validation from others.
Q: As the son of Ramkrishna Dalmia, a prominent industrialist in India, how did your upbringing influence your career choices and personal values?
A: I delved into the 11th skandh of the Bhagwat, Shanti Parva of Mahabharat, and Uttar Kand of Ramcharit Manas. The Bramhvaivarta Purana provided profound metaphysical insight. These spiritual influences shaped my sensibilities and subtly influenced my writing. My father maintained a daily journal, authored books, and released booklets like “Fearlessness” and “One World Government”. My scholarly mother wrote poems during the freedom struggle. The family’s literary pursuits fostered my values, encouraging creativity and an appreciation for arts, culture, music, and sports. While it was assumed I’d enter industry, I felt free to choose my career and found a passion for it.
Q: Could you elaborate on the protagonist of Afternoon and the two young women whose lives intersect with his? How do their individual journeys contribute to the overall narrative?
A: The protagonist is a young student discovering love, self, and his desired path. Raised traditionally, he’s exposed to the ’60s explosion of change at St. Stephen’s, which transforms his mindset. Ayesha, a Kashmiri Muslim girl, falls for the culture and change that captivated Rajiv. Sharing an idealistic vision, her journey faces macro forces beyond her control, temporarily halting the narrative. Another, an American Field Service worker from New York, experiences unexpected shifts during her India visit, altering her academic direction. This introduces a West Coast life to Rajiv and Catherine.
Q: The novel delves into the political landscape of the late ’60s, encompassing the Cold War, Vietnam War, and Berkeley’s movements and tensions. How do these historical events shape characters’ lives and decisions?
A: Rajiv and Catherine are part of student movements, not as leaders but organic contributors. This involvement exposes them to protests and police force, tinting their idealism with cynicism yet preserving hope. The events intertwine with their trajectory, impacting their partnership’s long-term nature.
Q: Music significantly influences Afternoon. How does the interplay between music and characters’ lives enhance storytelling and reflect the era’s spirit?
A: The ’60s heralded diverse music groups, making music an integral part of daily life. Whether through radio, tapes, or records, music encapsulated the era’s zeitgeist, propelling the narrative and becoming a narrative element itself. Music, timeless and ageless, uplifts and inspires, bridging generations. It doesn’t warrant justification, holding relevance today as when produced.
Q: The novel explores themes of threats, jealousy, and competition in intercontinental relationships. How do these elements drive the plot forward?
A: The characters face challenges in maintaining their relationships across continents, leading to threats and jealousies. These elements create suspense and tension, compelling the characters to confront their desires and make life-changing decisions.
Q: How do choices and uncontrollable factors shape lives, as depicted in Afternoon? Can you highlight story examples?
A: Our choices sculpt life’s journey, often influenced by unpredictable factors. The patriarchal figure’s Kashmir passage, partition, and Catherine’s trip to India exemplify uncontrollable forces altering trajectories. Decisions, even indecisions, determine paths.
Q: How do historical events of the late 60s shape the lives of the characters?
A: The backdrop of the Cold War and Vietnam War influences the characters’ experiences and perspectives. As young students in a time of social and political unrest, they engage with the movements and tensions of the era, shaping their ideals and aspirations.
Q: Your personal travels and experiences have had a profound impact on your writing. How do they influence your storytelling style?
A: Travelling exposes one to new cultures and perspectives, enriching one’s writing. It fosters inner growth, which is reflected in storytelling. My journeys add depth to my writing, allowing me to paint vivid settings and bring diverse characters to life.
Q. What advice do you offer aspiring writers exploring historical and personal themes?
A: Have faith in yourself and your vision. Dedicate time to writing regularly, even on uninspired days. Embrace the journey and be open to improvement through multiple drafts. Your voice matters.
Q. Besides writing, what other hobbies contribute to your creative process?
A: I enjoy art, cinema, theatre, and classical music, which provide inspiration for storytelling. Engaging in these pursuits allows me to reflect and enhance my creative process.
Q: Could you share insights into future projects or literary aspirations?
A: I haven’t decided on my next project yet, but I aim to continue exploring themes of love, idealism, and the human experience through captivating storytelling.