Interview with R. Seshasayee, corporate honcho-turned-novelist

The industry veteran said he wanted to question the stereotype of art and religion with his book ‘The Dance of Faith’.

The industry veteran said he wanted to question the stereotype of art and religion with his book ‘The Dance of Faith’.

Zaheer is a Muslim boy from a small village at the foot of Erkad Hills. dance From childhood. His early lessons were from Tamil films. Stars like Padmini and Vyjayanthimala enthralled him. The rhythm, movements and expressions play constantly in his head, even as his classmates make fun of him. He wants to learn Bharatanatyam, but his father does not allow him to pursue his passion. However, no obstacle can prevent him from his chosen path.

A dance of faithA multi-layered novel by R. Seshasai raises questions about stereotypes Art and religion. Can a practicing Muslim become a Bharatanatyam dancer? The book examines the question of identity as the protagonist pursues a life in art.

Seshasai has held several leadership positions in the corporate world. He is Executive Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of Ashok Leyland, Chairman, Infosys and Chairman, and IndusInd Bank.

Currently a vice-chairman at the Hinduja Group and an independent director at Asian Paints, the 74-year-old explains what he chose for his debut novel. Edited abstracts:

You are one of the senior industry leaders in the country and are on the board of many companies. How do you find time to write fiction?

I give credit to the lockdown. Although I started the book many years ago, I managed to make significant progress during the lockdown, like everyone else, time spent waiting in airports and in useless meetings was left over!

One might assume that your first novel is about the corporate world. Why don’t you want to do that?

I think there is an inner desire to get away from the corporate world and think about other things in life.

You are trained in Carnatic music and are also the Vice President of The Music Academy, Chennai. One would expect music to be central to your book.

The question I am trying to address transcends art forms. Whether art as an identity needs to be tied to faith, which is another identity, is worth pondering.

This is a very visual book. The village, the fair, the multicultural people, the lanes and bylanes of Chennai, Mylapore, the dance classes, the sabhas, all come alive. How long did the research take?

Not much. We all observe, learn and assimilate many things in the course of our lives. I had to retrieve these memories and knowledge from my mental library. But I checked many details – for example, on Islamic methods – with my friends.

What is your opinion on art and religion? Our classical music and dance are filled with devotion and religiosity. Do you think it is possible for art to bring religious unity?

Basically, I subscribe to the theory that we are all bundles of different identities. Faith is only one of them. There are others – citizenship, language, profession, art. Even the same faith, for example, Hinduism has many sub-identities. I think society needs to constantly find ways to unite humanity with what is common between social groups, rather than allowing division based on what is different. In an environment where faith separates people, art and other identities can and should be used for unity. If art or language is associated with faith, it furthers the divide. This novel is an expression of my views on social stereotypes and the interface between art and faith.

The interviewee is a Chennai-based journalist and author.

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