What is Karma's Servants about?
You have to read it to know about it, that’s the bottom line. Still, any story for that matter has some platform that it is based on. It is the floor, so to speak, that forms the base of a house, which is the story. I have always been preoccupied with this internal argument I have. Sometimes, we do our planning and expect to harvest exactly as planned and as acted upon. However, in real life, this may not happen exactly as planned. We can plant an apple tree but what comes out, may just be weeds. Things don’t always happen the way we want them to be. If you look around and observe, things don’t really go as we want them to be. We think we are the planners but in the end, we end up as servants to the circumstances, reacting rather than acting upon. Things happen to us, despite all our expectations, despite the talents that we have, despite all the minute details put into the plans. Death is easy enough to visualise about. It comes when we least expect it. Then there are the lesser events, that happen to us, which we would never expect. There are the good ones and then, there are the sad ones. So, I am rather preoccupied with destiny. It is a complex thing. Even though I have painted it simply in the book, about the simplest of things that destiny does or about the complex planning that Man does and the circumstances that come out of it, in reality it is not that simple. I don’t know when destiny starts or when the events that happen are the results of my own choices. So, this is what this book is all about. I don’t teach. I merely describe the differences between destiny and karma.
Because that is where my mind started to write, notes which I scribbled on envelopes and small pieces of tissue paper and which I stored in a drawer for the next few months. That is only half the truth. The truth is, Bali is rich in culture and tradition and rich in legends and myths. To understand Rangda and the Barong, I did a lot of research on their history but myths have mingled with reality, so much so, that it is difficult to actually determine which is real and which is not. The last visit to Bali in 2013, instigated by Elita clinched it. My mind started out in bursts of short stories. Basically this book reflects that. In certain circumstances, there are the real things, that can happen to just about anybody and in certain circumstances, there are the unexplained things, which belong to the realm of mythology and dreams.
How did you arrive at the story?
To tell you the truth, I only arrived at the end of the story and after that, I had to do a lot of dreaming and imagination. It was like shutting my mind off from reality and entering my own dream world for the two months. I lost track of time and I did not care much about what was happening outside, in the real world. I was involved on the inside. I became the character. My day dreams became my reality. Coming out of it, was another matter of course, it took a lot more effort to come out of a story and being able to write down stuff. I would say, it was almost ethereal, or supernatural. I was so involved in it that my day-dreams merged into reality. Sometimes, I would have a young man sitting on the bed as I was, telling me the stories and at times, as I wrote and was tired, he would say to me to cool down and sleep as I needed rest. Sometimes, somebody else would come along and sit by the side of the bed and tell me things which was of no concern to me. I don’t know who he was but I would say, he was my mind that appeared as a man so that I was being dictated to. In any way, I conveniently called him Kundalini because I went into some preparatory meditation to achieve some level of day-dreaming. Maybe I went in too deep. Maybe. But during those times, I found it hard to be in the present, I was literally in the story and I was writing furiously, even committing grammatical and syntax errors. That was not normally how I would write but I could not stop writing.
How did you get your characters?
Adapted normally, from casual observations of people I come across. They are real people, of course. I don’t normally participate in conversations but I observe quietly and these are recorded in my mind, like video trailers which I would retrieve once in a while.
The characters seem to have identical partners. Is this intentional?
Like two sides to a coin. I literally break them apart, into two from a single source. Like the twins, Ida and Wati - same people with a slightly different characters. Rangda and Sara - two characters which are actually related, brother and sister, in the mythology. Barong, Wibawa and Kasmidi - three persons who are actually one.
What will the next novel be about?
To tell you the truth, I haven’t the slightest idea. I want to go beyond the genre of horror stories to one that speaks of truth. Like the Haqiqat. My brother, Kamal Hisham said to me recently, “Why don’t you write about Haqiqat, without naming religions and prophets and God?” he said. It is not an easy proposition but I am challenged by the idea. A lot of books on shelves have climaxes in them. But there are books without climaxes, without endings, without results. Writing about Truth, is perhaps a story without any moralistic end.