Features / In Their Own Words

IN HIS OWN WORDS: Kiran Nagarkar

In Monday’s essay, Sue Dickman talked about the wonder of discovering Kiran Nagarkar on a trip to India, and his experiences writing in both English and his native Marathi. While Nagarkar is only now beginning to gain some recognition in the West, his career has been long and colorful. Here follow some of his thoughts on craft, characters, and language:


An early hint from Nagarkar that there would be a sequel to Ravan and Eddie:

“Ravan and Eddie were not twins. Ravan did not wince with pain if Eddie was hurt. Eddie’s thirst was not quenched when Ravan drank five glasses of water. If one studied, the other did not pass his exams. Later on, when one copulated, the other did not have an orgasm.

Let alone blood brothers, they were not even step-brothers. Eddie and Ravan’s lives ran parallel, that’s all. And there is no greater distance on earth than that which separates parallel lines, even if they almost touch each other. One city, one chawl, two floors, two cultures, two languages, two religions and the enmity of two women separated them. How could their paths possibly meet?

. . .

Fear not, my friends. This is a Hindi film story. Even if it’s written in English, it is not bound by the petty logic and quibbling of the colonizer’s tongue. Even and odd dates fall on the same day here and parallel lines which should meet only at the horizon criss-cross each other merrily in our universe (or Bollywood, as it’s called). But patience, for it is not to be yet, not yet. Who knows, perhaps not in this book at all but in the next one.” —from Ravan and Eddie

On his writing style:

“It’s the content that should dictate the style instead of the style being detachable from the content and form. There have been always two schools and they come in cycles. People write more and more difficult language. Sometimes there is a need to write it because the concepts are so intricate and convoluted. It was not Derrida who mucked up the whole scene for most writers, critics and theorists but his disciples. They thought that the only way to write great philosophy is to make oneself completely incomprehensible. And they thought that was an indication of depth of thought.

When I was young I went to Kashmir (in those days you could go to Kashmir) and I felt very sick. So all my school mates and the priest who was shepherding us had to leave for the next town because I was so sick. It was a very, very lonely time. Because there were nobody there and I was alone in an attic. Every once in a while in the evening the doctor would come up. When I recovered, I travelled towards a much higher altitude. The bus stopped and there was a pond with a marble railing around it. And I looked and I asked in Hindi: how deep is it? It was just blue water, absolutely blue with lots of fish swimming there. You can go down there forever and not come back. It’s that deep. That has stuck in my mind. That if I want to, if you are really any good, then the more transparently you write, the deeper you can go. You can’t see the bottom at all.” —from “Transparency and Depth: An Interview with Kiran Nagarkar” by Cristina Maria Gamez Fernandez

On being a bilingual writer:

“By the time I started doing my Masters, other writers and poets educated in English medium in schools in India were looking for their roots. I was born in 1942 and the freedom movement was still a fresh memory when I was in college. We all felt this divide, this sense of standing between two streams, English literature and western culture, and our own Indian values and traditions. But I was one of the fortunate ones: I should have also suffered from this major split down the psyche, but I had no problems with being hybrid and mixed up. . . . While [other writers] went back to learn Tamil, Hindi or Gujarati, I never felt the need. I had a child’s grasp of Marathi from my first 4 years of education but also I was not in the least unhappy with my divided state. I was born on the cusp of independence, so there was no point denying my colonial legacy as well as the new India. The only thing to do was to accept it and to make the most or the worst of it.” —from an interview with Arnab Chakladar on Another Subcontinent

On the genesis of Cuckold:

“One subject that was taboo for me was Meera . . . because I thought she was such a bloody bore! She was always wearing white and she always had that ektara and she was always looking inward. Of course I had completely bought into that kitsch myth of her. . . . What I discovered later on was that I was as much a victim of stereotypes as anyone else. I have not learnt much even now, I think.

I used to be an absolute film-freak and watch 6 movies a day and I used to be a film-critic as well occasionally. I was coming back from a late night movie in Delhi at a film-festival. I was with a friend and it was freezing cold in the rickshaw, and being from Bombay I didn’t have the right clothes. Suddenly this thought struck me that here is perhaps the most famous woman in India . . . you know Meera really crosses both state and language borders. I don’t think she’s a great poet like some of the other mystic poets but her language is on your and my tongue, without our realizing it. Well, here was the irony: This is the most well-known woman in India and we know absolutely nothing about her husband. This was a genuine conundrum for me: how can it be that we know nothing about this man but we constantly represent him as some vicious guy hell-bent on bumping off his wife. The thought struck me and I wiped it out. I wasn’t going to write about him. But you know some ideas make you eat your own words. I kept going back to the ‘missing’ husband and I started doing a sort of desultory reading of Meera. I discovered her husband’s name was Bhojraj, and that Colonel Tod himself had got it wrong. He thought Rana Kumbha was her husband. When I finally imagined that I could write about Meera’s husband, I thought it might be a 104-page book in bold type. . . . Anyway I thought I would make this guy a real wife-beater and so on. Fortunately the book and the characters took over and it turned out to be a very different book.” —from Nagarkar’s Another Subcontinent interview

Click here to read Sue Dickman’s feature on Kiran Nagarkar.

Bloom Post End

Homepage image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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