N. Sampath Kumar, writer and spiritualist, discusses past disappointments and present commitments
“People call me a fool sometimes. They say it in English but I choose to hear it in Hindi,” says N. Sampath Kumar, the author of the recently published novel Bindaas Zero Bollywood Hero. The author is speaking of the phenomenon of trolling, which he has often been subjected to on his Facebook profile page.
But the statement also reveals several facets of the author’s persona. His wit is only one of them. The other is his ability to play languages off each other. And a third is his understanding of himself, couched in the language of spiritualism, as a flower.
The 45-year-old writer lives in Chennai, but considers himself more of a Delhiite. “Growing up in Delhi, my language education consisted only of Tamil and Hindi, so writing in English was something I learnt on my own, but I was still diffident about speaking English,” he says. He was helped out of this diffidence by three seniors during his graduation from Hansraj College, New Delhi. Thereafter, he joined Armed Forces Medical College in Pune. “I spearheaded a strike there in 1992 for which I was suspended for a year, and failed to clear my exams as a result,” he says. This experience forms much of Campus Cola, his debut novel, incidentally.
He joined an English daily in Ahmedabad subsequently, but had to quit soon after, owing to circumstances at home. In the following years he did an assortment of jobs including working as a copywriter with an ad agency to being a coach at a call centre in Pune to featuring in a television serial on the Doordarshan Metro channel. Although his acting career did not quite blossom due to an accident which immobilised him for a few months, it marked the beginning of a deepened engagement with spiritualism. “I was immersed in the teachings of the Buddha and the books of Osho when I was bedridden,” he says. “Osho appeared in my dreams in 2002 and christened me Swami Harshananda,” he adds nonchalantly.
Just as Campus Cola, his new book can also be seen as holding a mirror to a part of his life. The title, selected from a long-list of about 200 titles suggested by the author, owes itself to his experiences as a copywriter. The primary plot deals with the rapid transformations in the fortunes of Vishy, named as much after Vishwanathan Anand as two of the illustrious members of the Hindu trinity, who is pulled from his call centre job into the world of Bollywood. Jana, “the new-age philosopher”, sleeps in a cemetery and lives off the charity of well wishers, just as the author did for four months in Pune.
Having frequently fallen in and out of employment, the writer claims he does not pay too much heed to money. Although he is a full-time writer now, his larger pre-occupation is “rescuing people from maya,” he says. It is no surprise, then, that Sampath Kumar’s occupation listing on Facebook reads Chief Existential Officer of The Universe.