How does one understand darkness if one doesn’t know the beauty of light?: Rohit Trilokekar on his book The Perfect Outside
'I think we are all products of our friendships, loves, and losses (thank you for pointing these out) and it is important that we are mindful of them, so as to understand the pivotal role they have played in our lives, be it good or bad,' says The Perfect Outside writer Rohit Trilokekar.
A parrot, a cat, and an eccentric Parsi owner form the triumvirate around which The Perfect Outside revolves. An allegorical tale that reflects the times we are living in through the angst of its characters, this book provides ideal food for thought in a pandemic. Answering pertinent questions about freedom, identity, and joy, this is a book for all ages and times.
At the heart of the story is the struggle of Polly, a caged parrot to break free of the barriers and boundaries she is surrounded with. Enlisting the help of Fluffy, a Persian cat, the duo explores the ideas of independence, happiness, and the route to contentment. Told in an engaging style, The Perfect Outside is all about the cages we surround ourselves with and how to make peace with them.
In an interview with FirstPost, author Rohit Trilokekar speaks about this modern-day fable, the struggle to break free, and the quest to find the secrets which make and unmake us…
During Covid lockdowns, when the world was locked up inside, the outdoors seemed a magical place. The title of your book, The Perfect Outside, seems to personify that…
Yes, it most certainly does. Although the first draft of the book was finished in 2015, long before Covid. However, the ethos of the book remained the same as it might appear in a Covid world, sort of like an antidote to cabin fever. Being a writer, I think one craves to be outside all the more. It’s completely different from getting dressed up and going to work as one would in a regular job, so a writer values that sense of freedom in the ‘Outside’ all the more. Hence the search for ‘The Perfect Outside’; a slice of magic, so to speak.
Take us through the writing process and philosophy behind the book?
It all started when I chanced upon an Indian parrot sitting on the branch of a tree outside my home. I thought to myself, of the inherent freedom it possesses as opposed to the caged variety, and that sort of set the tone of the book to come. When I started writing the book, though, I asked myself the question: ‘What is the Outside, really?’ Every time I came up with an answer, I didn’t find it sufficient. The book in its primordial essence is all about searching for freedom. Polly, the central protagonist in my story, seeks to quell her angst by plunging into philosophical thought, in a search for that very freedom. That is the very essence of this book.
The book is designed as a fable, in its light tone and usage of animals as protagonists, how did that come about?
My first book also had animals as its central protagonists. Needless to say, I have a deep love for animals. I think they understand this world in a way we don’t. Every time I look at the world in a deeper sense, I try seeing it through the lens of an animal. That being said, I’ve been deeply influenced by fables like The Little Prince and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I think their lighthearted flavor can hold the key to understanding some really serious questions. Fables allow you to ask questions that we have stopped asking ever since we ‘grew up.
The book is deeply allegorical in nature. Explain a little bit about it and why you chose to zero in on the format…
I think an allegory is the best literary device there is to explain things that we are long dead too, as they can unlock our emotions without us even realizing it. Sometimes one cannot see things that stare them in the face, but if you can lead them around the truth and make them see it in a completely different way, it somehow does the trick. Quite honestly, the parrot in my story represents every human being, with his or her desires and personal tragedy. One can be experimental with Polly; she’s a parrot, after all. In said experimentation, she brings to life truths told through allegories, that one couldn’t otherwise ‘get’. The most inherent example of this in the book is Polly trying to ‘break free from the bars that bind her. Aren’t we all?
Polly, the Parrot believes that she is meant to be outside, devoid of a cage while the Persian Cat, Fluffy is content to be on the inside, was this a conscious decision…to have two lead characters who want the opposite?
Interesting question. It wasn’t, thinking of it in retrospect, but I think it played out pretty well. How does one understand the darkness if one doesn’t know the beauty of the light? I recently saw a movie called Room, in which a five-year-old child thinks the room he is trapped in with his mother, is all the world there is for him to see. How would he know any better, unless he saw the outside world? Or someone told him there was something more? Polly can do that for Fluffy here, and Fluffy can counter Polly’s thought process too. A healthy debate is always essential in all quarters of life, don’t you think?
The Outdoors (with a capital O) in the book, seems a surreal space, a sort of Shangri-la where everything seems possible…
Yes, it does! All the more so for a parrot who has been enslaved for so many years. Perhaps there is more hype to it than one might think, though, and that is the very purpose of this book. Recently I stayed at a resort where they have these lovely dogs in cages that you can take out for a stroll every now and then if you choose. I happened to take a beautiful White Retriever out and he was content to just sit a few meters away from his cage and not go anywhere else. But then, it was ‘The Outside’. Don’t you feel that rush when you’re outside after sitting for an inordinate amount of time indoors? It’s surely a wonderful place, but exactly how wonderful, is what this book proposes to find out.
“The Perfect Outside was the space outside one’s thoughts” reads a quote from the book, can you expand on this idea?
I’ve always noticed that children are born free; liberated in a sense that makes us envy them on many an occasion. What goes on in their minds when they are very small? Certainly not a lot, but does that make them any smaller than us? Certainly not. The same goes for animals. It’s our incessant thinking that somehow binds us, and when one can somehow break that chain of thought, and find oneself in a space akin to floating in the sea while they might be on vacation somewhere, blue skies overhead, I think that’s the greatest freedom of all; taking us ‘outside’ our limited experience of this world, so to speak.
The ending shows a full circle when one realizes that the bars which surround us exist only in our imagination. Do they stem from personal struggle? What bars did you surround yourself with and how did you break free?
I made a lot of wrong choices in my younger days and there were moments in my life when I had the most indescribable pain. It made me wonder if that was all there was to it. I was trying to break free for the longest time in my twenties, my ‘turbulent twenties’ if you would like to call them that. It was only much later when I could see that what I was going through was temporary, that I found solace. But that solace was not enough. There had to be a deeper meaning to all this, and hence, my quest to break free from yet another cage; a cage of ignorance.
At the heart of the book is the relationship between Polly and Fluffy and how they help each other…what was the inspiration for these characters?
The parrot I glimpsed on the tree outside my house, as I mentioned earlier. I don’t really have a penchant for birds, but I think they are pretty cute things. I’m a die-hard cat lover, which explains Fluffy, of course. It’s delightful that you mention them helping each other. I think all animals, territorial though they might be, have an intrinsic sort of interconnectedness with one another. You can sense it in the way they behave around each other.
The book speaks of friendship, love, and loss…themes that are universal. How did all of them come together in a single story?
Someone once told me, ‘Everyone goes through everything’. I think those are some of the most powerful words that I have ever heard in my life. While some people choose to live in the past where their friends, loves, and heartbreaks are concerned, that’s not something I like to do. I’m detached, largely. Things from the past only scratch at the surface, largely. But my past experiences have shaped me like they do everyone. I think we are all products of our friendships, loves, and losses (thank you for pointing these out) and it is important that we are mindful of them, so as to understand the pivotal role they have played in our lives, be it good or bad. In the end, everything is a lesson.