Many top corporate honchos have written autobiographies, or have had biographies written on them. Some like R Gopalakrishnan, former senior Tata director, is a prolific author on management topics. But, very few have transcended the space to write a novel of fiction. Former P&G chief Gurcharan Das, of course, has been an author with many novels to his name. Recently, Harish Bhat of Tata Sons, wrote a novel,  An Extreme Love of Coffee

Now, to the short list of authors of fiction from the corporate world is R Seshasayee, Vice Chairman, Hinduja Group, and former executive vice chairman and managing director of Ashok Leyland Ltd, as well as former chairman of Infosys Ltd and IndusInd Bank Ltd. From writing short stories in Tamil, Seshasayee has debuted with an English novel. 

A Muslim boy’s large dream

Published by HarperCollins,  The Dance of Faith, talks about a young Muslim boy, Zaheer, who yearns to be a Bharatanatyam dancer. However, he is ridiculed in his small village and finds encouragement only in his aunt, Anandhi.

The book traces his journey from being a member of a conservative Muslim family “that is outraged by his unusual interest” to the dance form, which has its own associations with religious stereotypes, and the different facets of faith that he encounters. 

As Seshasayee says in the book, “It is a novel that explores the legitimacy of the fluid middle space between religious polarities and of the neutrality of art as a medium. It is, in a way, an expression of my conviction that each person’s faith is unique in its detail, is that person’s reality and that no one’s faith is superior to another’s.” 

Speaking to  BusinessLine from California where he is right now, Seshasayee, a trained Carnatic vocalist in his younger days with an abiding love for all forms of music, says the book is his way of expressing views on public matters rather than talking about them.

“One can empathise with characters in fiction and it also reflects our own reactions to situations; also, instead of talking in abstract terms, thoughts are better expressed in fiction,” he says, adding that it’s a fictionalised account of a real story.

Vital strands of the novel

He says there are three strands of thought in the book. “One is we have become far too binary in the way we look at everything in black and white, even in political situations. The fact is there is a large grey area which society tends to be dismissive of.” 

The second strand is that of stereotyping. “A Muslim boy wanting to learn Bharatanatyam raises eyebrows because, in our mind, the dance form has religious connotations; classical arts are seen to be owned by religion whereas art is neutral, art needs to be put beyond the purview of religion,” he avers.  

The third strand, he explains, is that in the book one will find many different hues of Hinduism. “One strand can’t be related to another one, each is different. My own interpretation of religion is my own reality; we can’t claim ours is superior to another’s!”  

Adopting unique narrative style

The story, he says, has been told in a somewhat unusual way as the first part is written in the third person, and the second is a first-person narrative. “The second part is the protagonist’s perspective. I don’t know if there are any other novels like this,” he adds. 

“In between these three strands I have tried to present a balanced view, leaving the reader to become part of the process rather than taking dogmatic positions. I left the situations to speak for themselves and allow the reader to become part of it. The reader can take their own positions,” says Seshasayee.  

Seshasayee is already on to his second novel, which deals with 400 years of Thanjavur history. The region has seen various settlers from the Dutch, the Danish, the Marathas, the Nayakars, and then the British.

“I am looking at the story from where women were and how they reached where they reached and how their journey has been influenced by the various cultures coming in,” he says. That novel will take another six months. The Covid-induced break has definitely given more power to his creativity and writing, Seshasayee signs off.  

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