A Conversation with Arjun Shekar
Arjun Shekhar is a founder member and board member of both Pravah and Commutiny—The Youth Collective. He is currently the President of the Pravah Board and director, Vyaktitva, a performance enhancement organization. He studied at the Delhi School of Economics, Delhi, and then XLRI, Jamshedpur. He worked at NIIT and SRF between 1990 and 1997. He is the author of the novel A Flawed God (2011) and recently launched book on stories called ‘End of Story?‘. He was in Jaipur to talk about the new book, its story, its characters and what inspired him to write this book.
This was the sixth talk organised by Jaipur Talks. The previous ones have been by;
Felix Padel, Social scientist
Arefa Tehsin, Wildlife conservationist and author
Shammi Nanda, Non-violent communicationist
Manoj Nitharwal, Psychiatrist and film maker
Shurjo Jha and Narayani Anaya, Yoga teachers
When asked about why did Arjun chose ‘End of Story?’ as the title of the book, he replied that for him what is more interesting is the question mark after ‘End of Story’. “It’s as if no story really ends. Every story continues beyond what the teller has decided the ending to be. Like for example, Orson Welles said “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”” Arjun’s recent book is actually a story in itself but a story that is trying to talk about the structure of stories and how we are sometimes fooled the way the stories are told to us. Arjun shared that while writing this (second) book he was clearer in his head that he didn’t want to write a racy thriller. He believes that character should tell the plot rather than the plot running everything. Hence, when one reads this book he will observe that the author has taken some time to build and talk about the characters in the book. Later, he was unabashed in saying that this book has a message although he is conscious of the fact that many of his readers would want him to thrust them to find a message in his books rather than the same being apparent. One of the most interesting moments in the talk was when Arjun asked his audience to perform a hand trick and later revealed its explanation. Following is a video of the hand trick that Arjun shared and do as the person ask of you.
“So, stories are the only way we humans transact with each other.” While explaining the trick he had just played with his audience he said “What does a story do? Story tells something interesting from a mundane activity and draws your attention to what the teller wants the your attention too. Like in the case of the hand twisting trick.” Watch how the attention is draw somewhere else by the performer to trick people.
Switch to 2:20 mins to watch the explanation of the trick.
“The world is tinkering with our minds like this all the time. Take for example advertisements, they don’t sell cream anymore they sell hope, they don’t sell juice anymore they sell vitality. So, they are already putting words in your mouth.” Arjun points out with another interesting example of old people wearing specks. He says, “At some point of time many people at the eye 44-45 have been told by the doctor that this is natural for eyes to not see clearly. But if you read the book Better Eyesight Without Glasses by William Bates writing in 1920, it says that it is a big hype created by advertisers and ophthalmologists and that actually one doesn’t need spectacles. Now, people can say that my story is half truth.” The point that Arjun was trying to get across was that all stories are part truth. So, we have the onus to find out the part that is not presented, but we typically don’t. We just buy the sorry. Elaborating on his part of the story Arjun then created a wow moment for everyone in the audience by demonstrating the use of Pinhole Glass (video), which is a natural way to better your eyesight based on Bates method. “So, how are we listening, reading and how can we read such that I don’t keep getting fooled again and again and that’s the message in the book. Every chapter of the book finds out asking and getting behind the story.”
Later, answering few questions from the audience Arjun mentioned that writing for him is just a process to explore himself and share and communicate with others. He expressed that he is not disappointed if his books are not read by millions.
The talk ended with this video;