Saturday, August 11, 2007

From extremes to extremes

“The author and the book is only half the bridge. The other half is completed by the readers. Without them you are nothing…”

Kiran Nagarkar tells Dibyajyoti Sarma about his new novel, his views on extremism and how we see the world around us, among other things

His latest novel God’s Little Soldier is already out in the market. Since then he has finished writing a new chapter for the book. You are surprised. You ask why? How? The author grimaces.
You talk to Kiran Nagarkar and you instantly come to realise that it’s not a nice thing being a novelist in India, especially when you are based in India. But Nagarkar cannot help being one. He cannot help saying what he wants to say, this time, a young man’s journey to the world of extremism in the context of the war on terror and religious conflicts. The author is passionate about his subject and about his protagonist, Zia Khan. He talks of Zia as if he was a living person, someone in flesh and blood, and, as if Nagarkar was defending his case. And that’s the reason he had to write one last chapter after 16 months of completing the book. “It will be added in the paperback version,” informs the author.
But what about the book itself? After a few initial discussions, the book seems to have disappeared from the market. The author grimaces again, as if to say, what do you expect? “All my books have found their places slowly. Even no one wanted to read Cuckold for the first few years till the Sahitya Akademi award happened. So, there’s hope.” The German translation of the book is a success, however. It was named as one of the best books of the year in the Frankfurt Book Fair. “I’m grateful for that,” says the author. “They have been able to engage the issue.” But he would have been happier if the Indian readers would have shown the same enthusiasm. “The author and the book is only half the bridge. The other half is completed by the readers. Without them you are nothing.”
We return to God’s Little Soldier. His name is Zia Khan, a brilliant mathematician, and a religious fantastic, and a man confident of himself and his relationship with God. As Zia gets embroiled into the world of religion and Islamic fundamentalism, Nagarkar embarks upon a journey to understand the realities of terrorism. “Zia is not a terrorist,” explains Nagarkar, “he is an extremist, always shifting from one extreme to another, a Muslim converted to Christianity.”
Nagarkar continues: “We have a template in our minds that compels us to see things in a particular light. We just buy into things that America would show us.” He offers an example: “Islamic fundamentalism brings you the picture of a Madrassa, with a bearded clergyman teaching religious fanaticism. But this is not the reality. The reality is much more complex. I have tried to get away from the stereotypes, that we are forced to believe what terrorism is and what is extremism.” His protagonist Zia is an average Indian, complex, and capable of doing brilliance. He is a good man turned bad and the novel tries to understand the psyche of that mind. Zia’s character is contrasted with his brother Amanat who claims: There’s only one God. She’s life. She’s the only one worthy of worship.
“You see, we consider Islam as a religion without a scope for repentance,” Nagarkar adds, “I have tried to put another perspective into it.”
The theme of the novel reminds you of another book which has created ripples in the international market, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Pakistani-British author Mohsin Hamid. The book has enjoyed its share of fare coverage, but not God’s Little Soldier. Why? According to Nagarkar the answer is simple: “The sun still rises in the West. We still look upto the West and we don’t have any self-esteem.”
War, religion, politics are all seem to be the permanent fixtures of Nagarkar’s fictional world. His most celebrated work till date Cuckold too dealt with the same themes. “I have no desire to write about religion,” the author explains. “For me the story is important. Concerns are only the by-products.”
Nagarkar started his writing career with a novel in Marathi, Seven Sixes are Forty-Three (Saat Sakkam Trechalis). Does he think he would have got more readers if he continued writing in Marathi? Not really. Even the Marathi novel is not read by many. But it is considered to be a landmark book. Nagarkar agrees: “But I don’t want to make milestones. I want to be read. And I don’t really want to tailor my thoughts.”
The author calls himself an occasional author. “That’s because I don’t write novels alone. There are other things that demand my time. And yes, he agrees, he’s still barbaric, primitive, because he writes in longhand, with a pen on paper.

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