V. Sanjay Kumar’s novel Virgin Gingelly delves into the underbelly of Chennai

The first thing that strikes you about the novel Virgin Gingelly is the cover. A bare-chested man in a loin cloth with the painted face of a Kathakali dancer stretches to another man, emanating from a mass of human bodies, dressed a similar way, “It’s a complex cover,” smiles V. Sanjay Kumar, the author of the novel, “ It is an adaption of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam as depicted by Vivek Vilasini, the artist.”

Sanjay admits that though his discovery of art was somewhat accidental, it is today a ruling passion. This former management professional who is now the directory of the Sakshi Gallery says: “The art market is a fascinating one,” adding that his first book, Artist Undone is a fictional account of the Indian art world featuring a man from the corporate world who plunges into the art world and discovers the intricacies of it. “The Indian art market mirrors the country. There are many diverse threads that are cultural and geographic and there is the influence of global trends especially on younger practitioners,” he adds.

His second novel Virgin Gingelly offers an interesting portrait of Chennai, the city of his growing up years. “I am a third generation UP baniya,” he grins, adding that his landlords were Brahmins and this helped him understand their lifestyle better.

Set in Mylapore, the book delves into the underbelly of the city, exploring its alleys and bylanes and telling the stories of its outcasts, “The conventional approach is to view the outliers from the middle. I like the reverse where the ordinary life of everyday people comes under the prism of the minority. So a character muses ‘Why are straight men so?’ or another rails against the tyranny of his father’s ordinary life. At the same time I wanted these outliers to be believable, human and not exotic,” he says.

He also believes that the best of his experiences and observations, much of which have fed into his book, have been derived from walking the streets of the city, “ I am a slow walker and an empathetic one and I try often to look at the surrounds through the eyes of those around me. Life is lived on our urban streets, pavements and corners and sometimes small dwellings are exposed to a casual stroller. Luckily, I know the language and the conversations, the fights and the curses.”

Much as he loves Chennai, Sanjay’s observation of the art scene there is somewhat cautious, “Chennai has been mute and strangely insulated from the art discourse which has revolved around Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Baroda. But I am hopeful because this is the land that produced the imperious Chola bronzes and the Airavatesvara temple.”