In Rajorshi Chakraborti’s short story The Man of the Moment, one man in a small town, in an England divided by Brexit, becomes a folk hero by giving free rein to his hostility towards refugees and migrants. Here, he talks about how the story was shaped in his mind:
When the different situations that form this story started coming to me almost in sequence, my first reaction was of alarm. I actually could not recall ever planning a story filled with so much hate before, or from such a perspective. Why were these images coming to me? The Brexit vote had been on my mind, of course, and I was pleased on one level to find that I wanted to say something about it in fiction, but why through such a person’s eyes? Why, in this case, as a ‘hater’, rather than, say, someone affected by such poison around them?
I should mention that I lived in Britain for most of 14 years, between 1996 and 2010. In that literal sense, it is a second home, as the country in which I have spent the most time after India. I met my wife there, and many of my closest friends. And even though I’ve lived in New Zealand for the past six years and have only returned to Britain once (for a month, a couple of months before the Brexit referendum), I keep up with its news, and wish for its well-being, almost as much as I do with India. Yet here was a story coming to me about a place I considered home, in the voice of someone who would probably dismiss any such claim.
Despite my many doubts, I began to follow the images and write the story, but now there was a different challenge to be aware of. I decided that if I reached the end and found that I’d created a complete monster, I would abandon the draft for now and not share it with anyone. No doubt statistically such people are to be found everywhere, who are more shaped by their hate than anything else (and they need to be explored in depth as well), but my aim in this story, without giving too much away, was to try and bring to light more of such a human being, no matter how flawed and repugnant they also were.
Another thing that came into view from the opening section itself, and continued right through the story as I filled in its world, was my sense of how divided Britain — and parts of England in particular — must have been for much of this year. The narrator’s family is divided, as are the citizens of his town, with each group unable to understand the reactions, and urgent priorities, of the other. And I felt this divide within the narrative also pointed to a gap in my own cognition, a struggle to reconcile inside the same picture the Britain and British people that I have known and the numerous recent outpourings of bullying and prejudice, a sort that once seemed largely contained within the pages of three or four tabloids but more recently have erupted at every level of national life, from laws proposed in parliament to racist acts on trains, buses and streets.
One final, unexpected possibility I discovered in the course of writing The Man of the Moment – that hating might be exhausting work. The narrator begins the morning quite energized and reinforced by his various hatreds, but then, the effort and vigilance required to hate almost relentlessly, as well as to remember to tweet about it right through the day, begins to take its toll.
I profoundly hope this story, and the mood it attempts to capture, becomes very soon a historical relic, a clearly bounded period we’ll shudder to recall, but then, as my wonderful editor Indra and I were preparing this story for publication, reports started to come in from all parts of America of terrifying incidents of intimidation and humiliation following Donald Trump’s election victory. So many more people suddenly appeared to have decided they had been granted the permission to release their inner Joe Reids.