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Do you know Hari Kunzru?

If you don't, you're missing out on a literary sensation who has just released his third book.Shaikh Ayaz tells more.

books Updated: Sep 11, 2007 19:13 IST
Shaikh Ayaz

Exuding charisma, oozing attitude, he has even been transmuted into a spiffy model by the chic style magazine Arena. The son of an Indian doctor and a British nurse, is to the subjects of identity crisis and global terrorism, what Salman Rushdie is to magic realism.

How he looks back in anger
Here’s the paradox: his books’ hardcovers sell out as soon as they hit the racks. But the 37-year-old Hari Kunzru shops for reading material at the flea markets. The Indo-British author was the toast of the literati circles, even before The Impressionist (2002) reached the stores, thanks to a £1.25 million advance for the UK, US and European rights. Following the bestseller, there was Transmission (2004). Now, comes My Revolutions, affirming his Angry Young Asian Man profile.

And to think he wanted to be a placid archaeologist when he was a kid. With My Revolutions, Hari Nath Kunzru focuses his sight on the volatile, radical youth-driven London of the 1960s; he tells the story of a hero with dual identities. The Impressionist dealt with the identity dilemma of Pran Nath, a child of an Indian lawyer, during the colonial yoke of the Raj. Transmission showcased an Indian hero — a computer geek Arjun K Mehta in Silicon Valley.

His books are all over the prime European and American book stores and wedged in between love stories and sci-fi at international aiports. He’s there in our bookshops, sure, but perhaps that mandatory promotion tour is essential to set off the buzz in India for My Revolutions.

Hackney man
Where could he be? Well, his home’s in Hackney, UK, where he lives with his New Zealander partner, artist Frances Upritchard. His Kashmiri father is an orthopaedic surgeon. Hari Kunzru grew up in Essex, studied English at Wadham College, Oxford University and did his MA in Philosophy and Literature from Warwick University.

He was in India in the summer of 2004 to promote Transmission. In one of his interviews then, he had said, “At 18, I went to Oxford University along with a earring, some retrospectively-embarrassing fashions and a smoker's cough, I acquired a long drawled 'a', the 'a' of 'car' or 'guitar' — Haah-ri. At the end, it was like being let out after seven years' incarceration in a girls' boarding school.”

He started off as a travel writer. In 1999,

The Observer

feted him as the Young Travel Writer of the Year. He wrote on music briefly. Then the novel,

The Impressionist

, won him the Betty Trask and the Somerset Maugham Awards.

Let there be praise
In 2003, Granta magazine placed him among the 20 Best Young British Novelists. In 2004, Transmission was among New York Times' top picks. He has also published a short story collection titled Noise.

Incidentally, vis-à-vis The Impressionist, Kunzru had turned down the John Llewellyn Rhys prize for writers under 35, the second oldest literary prize in the U K. For a decade or so, it has been sponsored by The Mail on Sunday. Kunzru felt the newspaper’s editorial policy has been “demonising refugees and asylum seekers.” Hostility towards black and Asian people was unacceptable, he reasoned out.

Voice against racism
The reasoning went, "As the child of an immigrant, I am only too aware of the poisonous effect. The atmosphere of prejudice it fosters translates into violence, and I have no wish to profit from it."

He donated the award money (£5,000) to the charity Refugee Council (UK).

Not since 1972 had Britain witnessed such an upfront rejection of a top honour. Earlier, John Berger had given half his winnings from the Booker Prize to the Black Panthers, likening book prizes to “puffed-up horse races.”

Kunzru’s rejection of the prize was significant in view of the fact that those who invite the wrath of the fourth estate in London are not let off easily. Kunzru, however, continues to mint a fortune and lead the life of an “intellectual celebrity.”

Raj Kapoor fan
Unlike his books, which explore immigrant issues,Kunzru doesn’t feel like a second generation, mixed junkie.He has remarked, “I don't know. I walk through Banglatown in London, past the skinny streetcorner kids with gelled hair and Armani jeans and the slang is one-third Jamaican, one-third Bangladeshi and one third Cockney.”

Oh yes, he’s into Bombay films too.. but can’t follow the lingo. He has said “Sometimes, I watch an old Raj Kapoor movie, reading the sub-titles because I don't understand Hindi.”

Modelling a black, dagger-sharp black suit in Arena magazine (October), he looks amused, both with himself and the cameraman.

On being asked where and when he gets his best ideas, he replies, “Off the internet. There’s a great guy called Bob who runs a service for novelists. During the day, he sells auto spares in New Jersey.”

So what if he hadn’t been an author? “I’d probably be making stupid music videos.”

And what’s the thing he always carries in his day-to-day life? Aah, Mr Kunzru says it in a word, “Angst.”

Something tells me, we will be hearing more about HK.

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