Don Quixote gets a Tam-Brahm twist

Updated: Dec 04, 2016, 12:55 IST | Kusumita Das |

In his debut novel Mr Iyer Goes To War, Ryan Lobo tips his hat to his literary idol Cervantes and his most famous creation Don Quixote

Ryan Lobo
Ryan Lobo

Award-winning photographer and filmmaker Ryan Lobo is known for his mastery in storytelling through images. His panache in keeping things real has won him many accolades, including a standing ovation at his TED talk on compassionate storytelling in photography. For his debut book, however, Lobo wanted to shift gears a little and try his hand at fiction.

"Fiction gives you the freedom to create your own stories, you can build whatever narrative you want," says the author. Titled Mr Iyer Goes To War, the book revolves around a Don Quixote-esque protagonist who stops at nothing to live life by his ideals. It tells the story of Mr Iyer and the adventures that follow when he realises he's an incarnation of Bheema from the Mahabharata.

"Like Quixote, my protagonist too, keeps getting beaten down, but he doesn't give up. He's never broken on the inside," Lobo says. A Goan based in Bengaluru, it's interesting that he chose a Tamil Brahmin based in Varanasi as his protagonist. Ask him why and he says, "I needed the character to be an Indian who believed and lived his mythology. Quixote believed in the ideals of a time gone by, and lived those with disastrous consequences. In some regards, the Tamil Brahmins too lived a life of exile, most of them left their home state but pride was an integral part of this community. I had also spent a lot of time in the Ganges during my documentary days, so that played on my consciousness."

Lobo had initially written this book as a screenplay in 2011, but later adapted it into a book. His deep engagement with Miguel De Cervantes and his most famous work, Don Quixote, led to Mr Iyer's story. "I read Cervantes and was interested in his life. He led a life of great trial and suffering but he was a man of integrity. Likewise, his often obnoxious and stubborn protagonist Don Quixote was an idealist who lived in a Spain in decline, and that led to a disastrous life for him. It's actually a very cruel book given the relentless nature of it. I felt it applied to our history in some ways," explains the author.

From a degree in science to a career in photography and films, Lobo's leap across fields was not something he had planned. "I am not sure myself how it all happened. One day, I was examining bacterium in a lab in Ohio and the next minute I was looking for cheap tickets back home, slightly desperate. I guess we have to forget about the life we plan for ourselves and live the one that leaps up on us. I always loved painting and reading. The adventure photography promised, in the days before digital photography, attracted me. In time, that changed too," he says.

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