Gaurav [Part 4 - English]

Texte Nepal 1 | Kathmandu, August 2011

We jump from your personal main topics to the Indian literature. What do you think by what the currently Indian literature distinguishes itself?

I can not really comment on Indian literature, because it’s written in many languages.
I would really say that english writing in India probably comprises a readership of very small population. So the actual situation in Indian literature … it’s very difficult for me to say. I can comment on the english writing: I don’t like it. (laughs)


I think we talked about this sometime before.
There are some good writers, but I think it’s a part of tourism industry.
Salman Rushdie wrote his ‘Midnight’s Children’ more than twenty years ago.
It was about the Indian diaspora, the cultural problems an Indian faces once he returns from the west. He has a ‘Schweinsledersack’ – is there something like this? So he returns to Kashmir and he is Muslim. It is forbidden to eat pig for a Muslim. So these are the problems which a character faces having returned to India. By the way they are making a movie of this right now. A big major Canadian production.
But in twenty years almost every new Indian writer is writing about the same problem. So in itself it clearly shows the writing is based around a regularly available market. There is already a market which exists for this sujet. And it’s read primarily from people outside India. And if you read people, even who are well known, like in this Indian literary scene, it’s obvious that they are writing for an audience which is not Indian. Because, if they have to say something like ‘roti’ and then put a footnote ‘what is a roti?’ I mean, no German writer would say ‘Yes, he eats his bread’ and then say ‘what is bread?’ Yes, everybody knows about bread. And every Indian knows about roti. It’s for a western audience.
So I think, this is the problem with English writing in India, that its taken on a turn where you know everyone … I mean it’s just too obvious that … why should a twenty years old writing revolver around the same experience?
It’s so obvious, that they are obviously fulfilling a market need.
There are probably some writers who are finding better expressions. And I’m sure, in the regional writing there is good stuff coming out. I don’t have access to a lot of it. I have read one Indian writer. I have hardly been able … because, you know, again … I’m an English speaking Indian. I mean I can read it … but of all those writers, like this one guy whom I really like.
So there are probably really good writers out there. But they are not so well known.
Actually the problem is, if you go to book stores in India, you wouldn’t really find the regional languages. Like the major book stores are only selling English books.
So where are these books?
They are there. But you need to go to some special little shops and look for it. It’s not in the main shops. Yes, I think this is a big problem. Because everyone in the world is saying English writing – India, India, India.
But they are really looking at a very sort of limited … I tell you the problem … I tell you this like for example … I don’t know if you have ever seen this movie ‘Frida’. It’s about the painter Frida Kahlo. And it’s a Hollywood production. Have you seen this?

Two parts, yes, it’s two DVD’s.

Yes, it’s a long movie. And I liked it.
Because I love this painter. I love her work.
Completely I loved it. I was talking to a Mexican about this. Three years ago I met this Mexican in Delhi. And we were talking about a lot of things and he was talking about how the Mexicans hated that. And I asked why. He said, because Frida would never speak English. And for the Mexican it was very important that someone like Frida Kahlo not should speak in English. But I didn’t notice that, because I’m not a Mexican. I don’t know these things.
It’s like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. That was an English director – ,Danny Boyle’ – that came and made this movie. It was OK until this Slumdog started speaking in this lovely English. And he just said, you know … I mean, this is a problem faces the writer. But then you have to figure out how the world within the text or within the movie will work.
What I try to do, I try to transcend language by putting it in a situation.
Why? If I say it’s Delhi then I’m confining myself. Then I have to say it in Hindi.
It’s like a fairy-tale. A fairy-tale is possible in every language. Yes? It’s another world. It can have it’s own, even nonsensical language.
So, yes, so this is the same thing like within the English literature. It’s appreciated a lot by the west because they don’t know. You are talking in general about the western impression of India and – the both ways it goes – the Indians impression on the west. The east and west.
I don’t know, there was one really interesting book, written by a Palestinian. Edward Said. You must have heard of him. He wrote a book called ‘Orientalism’. It’s a very interesting historical account on, when the west started making ideas about the east. And it came to colonisation, it came to Indology. And everyone, like the Germans for example – their participation was mainly through, not so much like colonisation, because the British came and colonised – but more about the texts.
Intellectual colonisation.
Like people like Max Müller or Renan or so many others of these Indologists.
These started forming notions of what is Hindu religion.
And in fact, I think the first translation of the ‘Veda’ was in German by Max Müller. I mean the first western translation. He has also done it in English. Max Müller was German, but he was sitting in Cambridge, he was in England. So he has written once the so called ‘Sacred Books of the East’. It’s a whole series. In fact my grandfather wants it and I still got it.
It’s an interesting part, because even today …
I have send stuff to publish this, and they say ‘It’s not Indian enough’.
And what means ‘Indian enough’? Because obviously you already had these certain notions of it. So I’ll give it you to read it.
It’s so funny like it means to have a mango tree. It means to have these gods, craking gods. You know, a few Indian words, which gives you that ‘Masala’. And the west falls in love with it.
Because for them it is a travel. And I must say it’s not literature means. For me may be, is going somewhere in Siberia, is a travel.
But I know, that being an Indian, that is not such a big deal if this guy keeps on bringing up roti: ‘She was making her roti’. So what? I mean, we make roti every day, it’s an every day experience, you know, that’s the thing.
I think, this is a general comment. I mean, I was interesting in this Indian writer who says … I think also in formal invention in English writing in India. You know, you just have to be able to know English.
We have very colonial ideas of the language.
We don’t use it very experimental. Because it’s not our language also somehow. If you try to experiment with it, it’s not status quo. You know, it almost is like a part of a certain class of Indians who grew up, knowing English well. They know English really well, but never using it experimentally. There may be a few in this whole group, like this wonderful Vikram Seth, who is probably a lot better than all the others – in terms of honest experimentation.
But generally that is my feeling towards English writing in India. But I cannot speak for … I know for example … I have read this one Tamil writer – brilliant. But his book is selling for ten Rupees in little tea stalls. You know, this is not a nice book shops. His stuff is really good, very experimental. I have seen no one and ever write like this. I mean, he is none of my favourites, but he is very good.
I’m sure, that in the regional languages, because it’s no money involved, there is no need to show off. There is no commercialism involved. People are not becoming millionaires of their stories. So they can focus more on what they really honestly want to say.

If you would have one million Euro, what would you do?

(laughs) I don’t know. … I think … with a million of Dollars? … I think, I would give it a lot to my mother.
Shall I seriously answer the question?


I would give a lot to my mother. She wants to start a school. So that money a lot of it could go to her to build that school. She is a director of a school, but it’s not her own school. It was always her dream to have her own school. But she didn’t have so much money to buy land and start her own school. If that money ever came, that would be the first project.

Which Indian book would you recommend to us? Perhaps Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things?

Did you like it?

We just read about one hundred pages or so. We like the language, yes. But as you said, it feels more commercial. What is your opinion?

See, Arundhati Roy, she is probably better than the rest, I would say. I personally didn’t like it, but it’s a personal taste.
For me there were too many mangoes bursting, it’s too fruity, too fluey, too many flowers and fruits.
But that is my taste. I don’t know that book enough, because I opened the second page and I put it down. Because it began too much… I don’t want to live with a family in Kerala, and …
But, you know, I think this is a very personal thing. I don’t know what you like.
An Indian writing in English, to be honest, I haven’t found anyone I like really.
And I’m pretty certain, if I would to find more translated writing … like I found this guy from Tamil Nadu, who is doing some very interesting. I don’t like all of it, but at least he is trying to figure out a new way of putting an experience, and I can even e-mail you a little bit, you can read it. It’s done so well and it’s such an interesting way.
But I don’t really know any Indian writer who … but, you know, I mean you might like all of them for that matter. It’s a question of taste. For me, like Kafka said, is … he wrote, I know it in English, he said something like:
‘Work of art should be the axe inside the frozen sea’.
So I’m a very like ‘hardcore’ guy. I like to be stabbed when I’m reading. I like something very strong. I think, Indian writing in English, there are some very interesting stories, very simply told, very calm. And I think this, when they come and stab you, this is very peaceful.
So there is one guy called … what’s his name … anyway, forget it … I read one book, it has been a nice story, but only nice. (laughs) For me it’s not enough.

And if not an Indian one, what would you recommend? So, what is your favourite book in the moment?

I like this one I read just now, it’s my favourite book, but it is not available in India. It’s called ‘Motorman’. That’s the most recent book I loved, by David Ohle. Published originally in the seventies, but just been republished 2008. But a very interesting. You know William S. Burroughs? He was a contemporary of Burroughs. So something like William S. Burroughs, but Burroughs was more ‘beat’.
This is more SiFi, but it’s not like typical SiFi, it’s something else. It’s character is … it’s awesome. It’s very easy, it’s a very short read. Sometimes you want to be able to enjoy it more, but you can’t, because it’s over before. It’s such a greed. I mean, every word has been carefully chosen. There are not very many words, but it’s well distilled. I mean, it’s very important for me: ‘like distillation’.
Useless words should not be there.

Thank you for the interview.