Interview with Savie Karnel, Author of “The Nameless God"Dive into exclusive insights with Savie Karnel, author of 'The Nameless God,' in an interview on Frontlist. Uncover the mysteries behind this captivating literary creation.
on Nov 16, 2023
Frontlist: We found the exploration of religion and the creation of a nameless God by two innocent minds in your book, 'The Nameless God,' to be quite captivating. Can you share how you came up with this topic and what inspired you to delve into the perspective of young characters navigating these complex themes?
Savie: When I was a little girl, maybe around 10 or 11, my friends and I built a playhouse with old rags and sticks in a field and played in it. We also built a place of worship on a sand mound nearby. We placed some twigs and sticks as our God, offered flowers, and prayed. Our small group consisted of children from different faiths; we ardently walked up to the mound and prayed fervently. The place of worship might have lasted for a couple of days before some unknown person threw our 'god' into an abandoned well which was rumored to house a witch. We gathered courage and peeped into the well, armed with our belief that our God in the well would not let the witch harm us. Well, we were right. We saw our twigs floating, and no witch scared us.
However, the stick house we built lasted longer than the place of worship, before a grown-up dismantled it. Years later, when I looked back at the incident, it struck me how a place of worship created by children was perhaps seen as more threatening than a house built by them.
My childhood was in the 90s, the same time as when the book The Nameless God is set in. It was a time when India was rocked by communal violence. Questions on religion, gods, faith, and friendship arose in our minds. When I delved into the perspective of young characters navigating the themes in the book, I was only strolling down memory lane.
Frontlist: "Family seems to play a significant role in shaping the beliefs and values of the two friends in your book. Do you believe that family values are influential in promoting respect for diverse beliefs, and how does this theme resonate in your writing?"
Savie: Our families, or people we spend time with, influence us to a certain extent. In the book, we see the various influences of different family members on the children. The influence of the mothers is significant in making the children respect diverse beliefs and helps them sail through difficult times. While Noor's mother shields him from his uncle, Bachchu's mother protects him from the influence of the people around him. Seema's mother promotes atheism and the importance of hard work while also respecting the religious beliefs of others. The families know no other way than living in harmony, for that's how they have been living all along. Values of respect for diverse beliefs have been instilled in them, and these values shape the young people in the book and their outlook.
Frontlist: "In your book, the vivid portrayal of the Babri Masjid riots and the questions raised by Noor and Bachchu, such as Noor's query about facing hatred despite no relation to Aurangzeb and Bachchu's curiosity about why setting a bus on fire is considered amusing, are significant. How do these questions contribute to the overall themes of your book?"
Savie: The riots following the demolition of the Babri Masjid is pivotal to the plot and change the course of the story. The atmosphere changes in the book. The central characters, Noor and Bachhu, sense the change and are left baffled. It is innate that they question things around them. Noor wonders why he should face hatred for the crimes supposedly committed by an emperor who lived hundreds of years ago. Any of us will have the same question if we are targeted for something that was committed by any other person, related or unrelated.
Setting fire to buses seems to have been the easiest form of display of anger by a mob in many conflicts. In many cases, a bus has nothing to do with the tension, yet it is set on fire. The incidents in the book and the children's questions try to give the reader an insight into the minds of the mob and make them question actions of hatred, arson, and violence.
Frontlist: In your book, you stress the importance of religious freedom and teaching respect for diverse beliefs, including a moment where a child is surprised by the term 'atheist.' Can you share your perspective on the significance of promoting these values, especially among young readers? Do you believe children should have the freedom to choose their religious beliefs?
Savie: I remember a time when we were encouraged to respect diverse beliefs. We accepted our differences and celebrated our diversity. Most times, we didn't even realize we came from different religious backgrounds. Somewhere along the road, we have been slipping into a time where the very use of the term' secularism' sounds criminal. I feel now than ever, we need to promote these values. If not respect for diverse beliefs, celebration of diversity, love, friendship, and kindness, what else deserves promulgation? Indeed, they are not opposites.
Young people should only be cloistered into compartments with a chance to explore. Children, by nature, are curious. They must be encouraged to learn, question, explore and be open to new ideas.
Frontlist: In your book, you address the use of derogatory language and the lack of acceptance faced by individuals of certain religions in their own country. Why do you consider it important to tackle this issue, and how can we promote tolerance, especially concerning religious beliefs?
Savie: No child, no individual should face any kind of ridicule, let alone face jibes and feel excluded from any community. We recently saw a viral video of a school teacher directing her students to hit their classmate who belonged to a particular community. Even the mere recollection of the video torments me. This is just one incident that came to national attention. There could be unreported cases where the aggression is similar or perhaps even milder. Irrespective of what religion a child's Family follows or what background the child comes from, no child should ever have to face any discrimination. Though the book was published before this incident came to light, I feel mentioning the incident helps me make a point of why it is important to promote religious tolerance among children.
Then again, despite stories of exclusion, there are many stories of inclusion and friendships beyond religious barriers. These stories of harmony need to be amplified. Stories of inclusion should not be exceptions but should be the norm. If we look around, we will find many stories like that of Noor and Bachchu amidst us. We must tell more stories of love and friendship, normalize religious tolerance and help build a harmonious society.
Frontlist: We find it intriguing how the story begins with the kids relying on God to fulfill their wishes, but it evolves into a journey where they discover that 'God is within.' What's the message you intend to convey about the transformation of belief and spirituality within the story?
Savie: We as individuals are constantly questioning, seeking answers, and evolving. Our experiences form our perspectives. Children are at the beginning of this adventure of exploration. In the case of the children in the book, they rely on God to fulfill their wishes and also create their own God and give it the form of a stone. The experiences that follow strengthen their faith in their nameless God to grant their wishes for their God protects them. Their nameless God is omnipresent around them during the crisis. However, their experiences and riots also make them question the need for having a structure for the God they created, whose force they felt in their surroundings and in the environment.