The Manusmriti makes it clear that Bhramacharya ashram ends at the age of 24. After that a man must enter Grihastha ashram. But, like many men of my generation do – often to the chagrin of the women of my generation – I stayed in Bhramacharya ashram way beyond the prescribed age, living in messy apartments, playing games on my computer for hours on end, dating and breaking up with women who were not right for me, spending months and years at a time alone, and not liking that either.
Then I met the person I knew was right for me, the person I thought I could be right for, and a whole new world opened up.
In 2009, some four or five years after I had moved back to India from the US – a move that had been fraught because I was working in an Indian university and I had not known how ill-equipped I was emotionally to deal with a highly bureaucratic system – I started thinking in earnest about a novel that would have a minor government functionary as its central character. I knew corruption would figure in it in some way but I didn’t know what the fundamental underpinning of the story was.
Just around this time my wife finished writing her first novel and we decided to have a baby. Our son is four now, and all the waking nights and illnesses and diapering and school admissions of these last four years have blurred my memory of what happened since he was born, but I clearly remember those mornings at the ultrasound clinic, waiting for our turn, giving each other worried looks, all the different scenarios that we had read about the previous night on the Internet running through our mind.
Then the darkened room, the glowing screen, the small figure kicking and turning in black and white, the joy – the sheer joy! – the tears, the relief, the waiting for the doctor to turn and pronounce that everything was looking fine, the reading his body language to ensure that he wasn’t lying, the coming out into the daylight, the tight hug and the mellow togetherness of the drive home.
In hindsight it was inevitable that the story of Naresh Kumar would be more than that of government offices and corruption, it would be bigger than that, it would be more fundamental, more universal. There was no single epiphany, but a series of sessions of planning the book, sessions that ran parallel to sessions with radiologists and gynaecologists and obstetricians, led me to realise that the story of this novel would essentially be the story of a man and his family. It would be the story of a man who had, long ago, undertaken the same transition I had recently undertaken, from Bhramacharya to Grihastha, without really understanding how profoundly it would affect him, how it would define him and make him who he he would always be. And this novel would be called The Householder.