Greatest Indian Novels: Interview with Vikram Chandra

  • Saudamini Jain, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jun 21, 2014 20:32 IST

1. Sacred Games is over 900-pages long, it is detailed and authentic. While writing, did you think it would get the recognition it eventually did - or was it a risk?
I try not to think of anything but the writing while I'm writing. The great Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman once wrote that "the single most important fact, perhaps, of the entire movie industry" is "NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING" (all-caps in the original). That is, trying to predict the reception to a creative work is a fool's game. And, during the writing process, the urge to anticipate is hugely distracting. I do the work for myself and a couple of first readers; what happens after the book's release, and in the years that follow, is always a surprise.

2. How did you research for the novel?
In the usual way of reading a lot, talking to as many knowledgeable people I could about the milieu I was writing about, and sometimes trying to insert myself - if only for a couple of hours - into the world that my characters live within. This last part seems to fascinate people the most - "Did you meet any gangsters?" - but I think it's a mistake to connect fictional authenticity with that kind of on-the-ground ethnographic research. The novelist's job is to construct a convincing simulacrum, and good writers can do it even if they've gotten the ethnography from a book, or from an expert - in my case, the crime journalist Hussain Zaidi, who I was lucky enough to have as friend, philosopher, and guide. Finally, the writer's imagination is what makes the fictional universe live.

3. The one thing you know about the Mumbai underworld now but didn't when you wrote the book.
That it's not an underworld. Crime - organized and otherwise - exists in the same neighbourhoods we live in, and exerts its influence over our daily lives. And, conversely, there are all sorts of legalized crimes that social and political systems inflict on people.

4. Which medium was your first love: the novel or the film?
Oh, absolutely the written word. When I was growing up, movies weren't so easily accessible as they are today on cable and over the internet. That's why Chitrahaar was such a major weekly event. But books - I could read (and re-read) every free moment I had. Even today, I can go weeks without watching a movie, but a day without reading feels incomplete, somehow barren.

5. Do people ever confuse you with the other Vikram Chandra (NDTV) all the time? Tell us the funniest mistaken identity story!
I do get email from time to time congratulating or cursing me for some interview with a politician. And Vikram - the other one - told my sister that he once had a guest on his show congratulate him for winning an award for Love and Longing in Bombay.

6. Are you surprised that the book is considered one of the greatest Indian novels of all time?
To use Russell Peters' phrase - I am mind-blasted. And gratified.

From HT Brunch, June 22

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