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AT HOME WITH WORDS Amitava Kumar doesn't want to communicate with some abstract global ideas
AT HOME WITH WORDS Amitava Kumar doesn't want to communicate with some abstract global ideas

As Amitava Kumar's first novel hits the stands, ANUJ KUMAR engages the author in a freewheeling chat

At a time when one person's misery is being frequently used to write someone else's fantasy, here is an author who claims he doesn't spin tales around abstract global ideas. Meet Amitava Kumar, whose first novel "Home Products" by Picador has just hit the stands. "I am not like a novelist in Virginia who loses his sleep over whether he is being read in Patna or not." No wonder, Bihar - where Amitava was born - is pivotal to his novel. "It is the tale of two brothers - one a journalist, other an alleged criminal in jail. Both want to be in the film world. The journalist, inspired by classic cinema, is asked to write a script. But he soon discovers that the director wants masala. Ultimately, he turns the real story of his brother into a script. Hence the title, taken from Mark Twain's famous line - bring me the home products," shares Amitava.

All about ambition

At one level, Amitava says he wanted to explore what makes an ambition. "Art doesn't emerge in a vacuum. One view is, art requires patronage. Now, how many bookstores in Bihar will keep my novel," he interjects, though he describes it is a mirror to their lives. "But is there an acting or a writing gene?," he wonders. "If I ask my students in the U.S. to write a story with grief as the emotion, they would immediately start writing. Probably because they have been taught to believe they can do anything. This was not true for India till some years back. It is only for a few years that young Indians are discovering they can conquer the world."

Politics and culture

How the system affects individual creativity is another major concern of Amitava, who has written extensively on politics and culture. If a photographer is not able to think how his model will look like against the glass with water rolling down over it, because he has his son's fees on his mind, it is an example of politics impeding culture. "In this sense, ambition requires infrastructure to bloom."He feels the problem is also with the Indian education system, which makes students read something they don't identify with. "How can a boy in Motihari or even Karol Bagh identify with the characters of Somerset Maugham? How can you generate interest in a language without situations which are familiar to the student?"Known for his non-fiction titles, on top of the mind being "Husband of a Fanatic", based on his experiences in Gujarat after Godhra, Amitava says he hasn't altogether given up the reporter's streak in his writing. "The entire episode involving Mumbai bar girls in `Home Products' has been written with a reporter's perspective. I feel the difference between fiction and non-fiction is, in fiction you build a story around a few facts. It's like what Ernest Hemingway said, in fiction you show just the tip of the iceberg. What's beneath the water is for the individual reader to make out."Is there any science to fiction writing? "To me the only science involved is rewriting," he quips.

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