Kumar talks to Lakshmi Indrasimhan about Bihar,
his home state and the setting of his soon-to-be-published novel, Home
said somewhere that Home Products grew out of reading an interview with
appeal to pathos made by writers writing about
people they meet only as servants’
Well, I was greatly
struck by his candour. I interviewed him over several days: we’d
talk for hours. It seemed to me there was a book there, and then I decided,
not without help from David Davidar, that I should turn it into a work
a stereotype in India that Bihar, despite its history, is currently
at the nadir of civilisation. How, if at all, will this book change
perceptions of Bihar?
Well, in some respects,
Bihar really is the nadir of civilisation. And therefore it is the future
that awaits the rest of India. This is not a future of only lawlessness
and chaos. Rather, it is an already existing present where even inside
the worst, you see a possibility of the best. And vice versa. The problem
with stereotypes is not that they are false, but that they are static.
And that is why Bihar is interesting. It defeats expectations. I hope
my book promotes that view of Bihar.
we are in the midst of a Bihar Renaissance with Siddharth Chowdhury,
Tabish Khair and yourself. There are even several websites that aim
to show Biharis as achievers.
I like Siddharth’s
writing because it is daringly original. And Tabish is the better kind
of scholar-writer that India somehow seems very good at producing. But
I doubt they would identify with the Biharis who run the kind of website
you’re referring to. I certainly don’t. I don’t write
to furnish a better image of a place or a person. Writing for me is
a way of finding out what is hidden from the world. All declarations
of superiority are also symptoms of real inferiority. I know what is
inferior in myself. I want to be honest about it.
said it would be great if your writings let Bihari students see themselves
reflected in their textbooks. Have you considered writing in Hindi?
I have lost any
ability to write in Hindi with any competence. But I’ll admit
that when I read some translations of my own writing in Hindi, I find
the hair at the back of my neck standing up. This has absolutely nothing
to do with the quality of my prose. It has everything to do with the
sounds of words in your mother tongue and the associations they carry.
the village been treated in Indian literature?
More popular than
the pathologising of the village, particularly in metropolitan fiction,
is a misleading romance about the village. It’s all folkloric,
with no sense, really, that people are shitting in the fields or dying
of cholera. Or dying to get away and become a badly-paid security guard
in a Delhi suburb.
How do you
read the recent killings of Biharis by ULFA militants in Assam?
It reminds me of
the ways in which Bihari workers provided fodder for the terrorists
in Punjab. They were the easiest targets and the most powerless to resist.
Of course, the killers aren’t very privileged or rich either.
This story is of the vengeance of the less powerful against the least
mentioned the middle class writer’s impulse to speak in an underclass
easy appeal to pathos made by writers writing about people who in real
life they meet only as servants. I can’t do it. The novel I’ve
written is about the middle-class in its middleness, unable to resolve
what it means to succeed.
Well, this is the
place to reveal that Tehelka plays an important role in the novel. One
of the central characters observes that Tehelka reporters are able to
bribe Army officers and politicians with very little — it doesn’t
take much to strut in the corridors of power. He too wants to become
a player. He knows he can’t change the nation’s fate, but
he begins to wonder whether he can’t change his own.