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Faces of India
Kiran Nagarkar

Romola Butalia talks to writer Kiran Nagarkar about his successes, his failures and what makes him tick, in a candid interview.

Who is the new kid on the block in trade-mark kurta-pajama, French beard and the appearances of a 60's Marxist ? All of 55 and more, a few years ago Kiran Nagarkar took a short cut from oblivion to fame among the new breed of Indian English writers with his novel, "Ravan and Eddie". Three earlier Marathi plays and a Marathi novel were essentially still-births.

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Hailing from a middle class family, Nagarkar, the unknown, unsung writer had an aborted career in academics after two stints at teaching English grammar, ranging from 6 months to a year when he was ignominously relieved of his duties for failing too many students. He spent a few months at a magazine office at Pune, before becoming a trainee copy-writer in '69, working himself up to Creative Director before the agency folded up, and he took to free-lancing.

In the meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Great New Indian English Writing he had to content himself with reading the works of one successful Indian writer after another, convinced that what they had to say was nothing at all. All the while he resented the genuflection before artists while seemingly fantasising of the day the world would pay obeisance to him. Without drawing breath between, he says, "I don't believe in being an artist...It is extremely important to me to be an artist."


So what compelled him or inspired him to be a writer ? "I wanted to be a writer because I care enormously for people and their dilemmas. Through the world I create I address these dilemmas - I do not resolve them." Nagarkar firmly believes that writers cannibalise their own experiences and exploit the experiences of those around them before populating their carefully created universes from their imagination. "I have a hefty, hectic imagination, and tremendous anger that I can use as an emotion to create characters who move you, touch you, hurt you. I live by proxy," he announces.

But there is another dimension to his inner compulsion to write. While categorically stating that he abhors self-indulgence, self-absorption, narcicism, he says, "I don't have any children. I would love to have fame, I would love my book to be a super-hit. But fame is only a by-product. What counts for me is my work, not myself. My work gives me validity."

Since '91 he has devoted himself exclusively to the business of writing. "Ravana and Eddie" was the initial duly applauded outcome. With his latest novel, "Cuckold", he believes he has truly arrived. About his novel of over 500 pages, with a veritable cast of characters he says, "I didn't set out to write a big novel - it had a kinetic energy of it's own."


Admittedly, it is easy to dismiss Nagarkar's obvious angularities beacause of a basic integrity of emotion and expression which allow him to let his hang-ups hang out. He is not playing games or promoting himself when he talks excitedly about his book. In the very same literary and intellectual circles Nagarkar views with a degree of perhaps justified disdain, the response to "Cuckold" certainly vindicates Nagarkar's own enthusiasm for the book. But Nagarkar seeks an universal audience - to reach out and touch the ordinary man.

To survive failure and yet believe in your own creative genius necessarily implies a certain arrogance. And the truth is Nagarkar arrived with his latest novel, thus exonerating his arrogance. It is possible that with success might come a degree of humility. Otherwise Nagarkar, the individual, could easily become an insufferable bore, even while Nagarkar the writer finds a deserved place in the sun.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.