Dr. Amitava Kumar is a writer and journalist. He was born in Ara, and grew up in the nearby town of Patna. Kumar is the author of several books of non-fiction and a novel. He is also a board member at the Asian American Writers Workshop. He is a contributing editor at Guernica as well as Caravan. He serves on the editorial board of several other publications and co-edits the web-journal Politics and Culture. He lives in Poughkeepsie, in upstate New York, where he is Helen D. Lockwood Professor of English at Vassar College.
Q. You had to leave India abruptly to be safe after reading from The Satanic Verses at the Jaipur Literary Festival 2012. What do you feel what happened then when you compare it to recent events in response to which writers have returned their awards to the Sahitya Akademi?
A. Perhaps the braver thing for me to do in 2012 would have been to court arrest. But I couldn’t risk it. I could not imagine my small children, far away in the U.S., being without me. My bravery had its limits. I support writers returning their awards if they felt that the Akademi, and by extension the government, wasn’t doing enough to stop violence against minorities and women.
Q. Once you mentioned that you have been married three times, of course to the same girl. You have been lambasted by various Right-wing Hindu fundamentalists for marrying a Muslim girl and at the same time advised by Muslims not to glorify your marriage. Do you think that adversity in such simple things makes you understand people better and sympathise with them as a real liberal person?
A. I have had it easy. I married whom I wanted to marry. No one killed me for it. I’m thinking now of couples who are condemned by khap panchayats and hounded by their relatives. It is not my experience with adversity, such as it is, but my being a writer that makes me sympathise with people. I’m curious about them and my interest in them is as human beings. I try to see them as individuals and not as stereotypes.
Q. You have always stressed the importance of adopting writing as a ritual for a writer. "Write every day and walk every day" has been your mantra. What inspires you?
A. There can be no real writing without reading. Which is to say, what inspires me the most are the words of others. Other writers inspire me. I know of writers who before they begin their day’s work first read a few pages of the writer they admire the most.
Q. Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
A. I read George Orwell in school. His essays were instructive: they taught me to write clearly. The same English textbook also had essays by Khushwant Singh and Dom Moraes and I found that writing wonderful too. It inspired me to describe my surroundings with some sort of precision and if possible even some lyricism. Later, writers like V.S. Naipaul loomed large in my imagination.
Q. What projects are you working on at the present or planning in the near future?
A. I’m trying to put the finishing touches on a novel about a man from Bihar, from a village near Gaya, who roams the world in search of a revolution. Recently I have also begun to sketch the outlines of a story about a murder of an innocent man.
Q. What question do you wish that someone would ask about your books, but nobody has?
A. Frankly, I have never given this matter much thought. People often ask me which book of mine is my favourite. I think Husband of a Fanatic was perhaps read the most. Often, the last book you write seems to exert the greatest pull on you. But I’d have to say I like 'A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna' the most. It is a book about my hometown, Patna. I wrote it while following my own mantra. I wrote it in a dream. I used the book to define my relationship to my roots and to describe a fear I had about my parents. I felt I had written an honest book.
Paul Scherrer Institute, Switzerland
Dr. Siddharth Suman is a freelancer writing especially on societal issues, science, and education in both Hindi and English for various online media houses. In addition, he loves to write poetry and short story for the expression of personal emotions and thoughts. His poetry book titled 'Evaporating Soul — between love and life' may be read at Kindle.