The message of hope and positivity has been even more pertinent during the Covid-19 pandemic. To reinforce this thought, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) hosted a book discussion of The Rock Babas and Other Stories by Mr Ameya Prabhu. The moderator for the session, Ms Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director at IMPRI, introduced Mr Prabhu as an entrepreneur; Managing Director of NAFA Capital Advisors Pvt Ltd and New Age Financial Advisors Pvt Ltd; and Partner, UAP Advisors LLP. Apart from this, he is the Director at MiracleFeet Foundation, Vice-Chairperson of Konkan Krida Prabodhini and a board member of the Climate Group. Mr Prabhu is also a published writer and columnist.
Given the list of Mr Prabhu’s preoccupations, alongside his personal life, Ms Simi was fascinated by how he strived to strike a balance between his professional, personal and now, writing life. Mr Prabhu stated he was forced into solitude during the Covid-19 lockdown, with him stuck in Mumbai and his family in Delhi. Faced with social and professional disruption and isolation, he reacted to this challenge by following his passion for writing.
He highlighted the importance of the time at hand. Once utilised or allowed to pass, time never comes back, unlike the material things in our life. While some might complain about the ampleness of time due to the nationwide lockdown, we should consider it as the greatest asset and make the best use of it, he said.
The same can be done by pursuing a hobby, spending time with loved ones, or even oneself. It is believed that the only time we close our eyes is to sleep, but according to Mr Prabhu, we should close our eyes even when we are awake, to introspect. This time can be utilised by thinking about and ascertaining our contentment with our lives. It is a theme that runs through the course of the novel.
While he had been involved in writing news articles, poems and other content of a short format before, writing a novel of about 300 pages has been a new experience for the author. He was able to do so in a period of just three months, owing to his dedication and discipline throughout the process. The stories took him, on average, 7-12 days to write. Some of them entailed heavy background research; for instance, Agent Holder involves a murder investigation for which technical and forensic research was undertaken by the author.
The Rock Babas and Other Short Stories is Mr Prabhu’s debut novel, published by Westland. With its intriguing and captivating title, the book is a collection of nine short stories. The reason for choosing this format was in light of the current consumer preferences with regard to entertainment. The stories are based all over the world — from Columbia and sub-Saharan Africa to Nepal and Bangladesh.
Within this, the stories include people from various religions, communities and races. This diversity is aimed to illustrate a common theme: that ultimately, we are all human beings. All of us face hurdles in life, but how we react to them is what defines us. This theme of the inevitability of challenges and how we reflect on the past is something that the author faced as well while writing the novel. While the message may be hard-hitting, the delivery is humorous and light.
The story of ‘The Accidental Philanthropist’ narrates the story of a Japanese billionaire Takahashi Watanabe who is wealthy and successful. On the personal front, however, he is estranged from his daughter and not very well regarded. After he gets diagnosed with a terminal disease, he donates his fortunes to charity in hopes of making amends with his daughter. Overnight, he receives newfound love and respect from those around him. As it turns out, he had been misdiagnosed. He faces the dilemma of wanting the money back and not lose the reconnections in the process. Being too caught up in the materiality of life, he forgets to keep the things or people that make him happy close to him.
‘The Memoirs of a Dictator’ is set in a fictional country of Swaganda in sub-Saharan Africa and traces the journey of a dictator in the post-colonialism context. A patriot at heart, he is well-intended and genuinely believes that his actions are ‘good’ for the country, even though it has been consumed with terror and destruction. As he sits in jail, he is forced to come face-to-face with his past choices and reflect upon them.
The Rock Babas starts with a Swiss hotelier travelling to Nepal to climb the Kanchenjunga. He is affluent and haughty. On his journey, he hears local stories and legends. While climbing, he gets caught in an avalanche and is rescued by a group of monks who attempt to attain enlightenment by playing rock music. The interplay between the indigenous communities and the ecosystem, which they are a part of, also comes to the centre-stage.
‘The Manifestations of Anpao’ features Bill Jackson, a method actor who becomes the negative character he is playing. A Native American helps him detach from his character but ends up feeding into it. Bill relates with the character as his own negativities start amalgamating with it. The external battles are, in actuality, manifestations of the ones that are going on in our minds.
Personally, the author has faced his share of trials in life. He decided to keep fighting with a positive outlook. Mr Prabhu asserted that hope is the most powerful fuel that drives us. It is another theme that is central to the book.
Just like in ‘The Memoirs of a Dictator’, where the dictator acknowledges his mother as the most influential person in his life, Mr Prabhu has been brought up by strong and progressive women. Aspects of his life, for instance, work on women’s emancipation. The issue of environmental development has also been incorporated into the book. Racial, religious and gender equalities are some other recurrent themes as they are a reflection of what the author believes in. While one might think that the book is too idealistic, Mr Prabhu asserted that someone has to be the flag-bearer of idealism and inspire to move forward. To this, Ms Simi added that it can translate into concrete output for society as part of social entrepreneurship.
Additionally, Mr Prabhu has a penchant for a wide array of genres in music including classic rock, jazz, old Hindi songs and Hindustani classic. He also listens to music in different languages, which helps him understand and appreciate cultures. Music has been an integral part of the author’s creative input.
The book has received brilliant reviews on different platforms from readers and continues to do so. It was launched at the Jaipur Literature Fest and has been presented at several other literary events.
Mr Prabhu considers himself his greatest critic. While some people questioned his choice of format, he noted that it was a conscious decision. Another criticism that came his way was the simple use of language. Some believed that they would have preferred a common link emerge through the novel, something that the diversity restricted. To this, Ms Simi responded that she believes there was one of humanity.
Mr Prabhu would label the book as a success not by the number of sales, but by its ability to inspire others to be happy, positive and brave.
Given the Covid-19 pandemic, people are dealing with challenges on personal, economic and health fronts. One must keep an optimistic attitude to conquer the situation. Furthermore, one must look inward and introspect and focus on our internal goals. With hope in our hearts, tomorrow will be better. With respect to the environment around us, Mr Prabhu hopes that we make incremental changes towards environmental protection.
YouTube video for The Rock Babas and Other Stories: A Book Discussion