In Conversation Books

‘I think readers have a role to play in society, not writers’: V. Sanjay Kumar

V. Sanjay Kumar   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

For someone who began writing at 50, V. Sanjay Kumar has been remarkably prolific, churning out four novels in a decade, with the fifth underway. While his debut novel, Artist, Undone (2012), is set in the worlds of advertising and art, his latest, A Tamil Month (2020), is more politically charged in its engagement with caste issues. The Bengaluru-based former entrepreneur is a full-time writer now and also runs an art gallery. His short story, ‘The Fore Caddy’, won the prestigious Bridport Prize, one of the U.K’s oldest literary awards, in 2018. Excerpts from an interview:

How did Artist, Undone come about?

I was fascinated by what went on in the art world, which people knew little about but one they called elitist, and its market, irrational. Art tends tends to make people nervous especially when it is abstract or lacks a convenient narrative. The narrator in Artist, Undone is someone like me, from the business world, who stumbles into art and his life takes a turn.

Is your crime noir novel, The Third Squad (2017), set in Mumbai of the 80s and 90s, inspired by real-life events?

I was in Mumbai in the 80s and 90s. It was a strange time for the city with all the bomb blasts, riots, extortions and encounters. Writing a narrative set in that period felt very real. The sense of place in the book is heartfelt and first-hand. I was also at the time exposed to the soft underbelly of the city, the one that gangsters were threatening.

The rest of the novel is fiction. Two encounter squads are from real life, the third is from my imagination.

Noir crime novels are often made into movies. Did you get any offer?

There was considerable interest for The Third Squad to be made into a web series and we did sign with someone. That was the time when Sacred Games came out, two seasons of it. That perhaps queered the pitch for funding, as my book is set in the same space. There is residual interest but nothing firm.

Which writers have influenced you?

My reading is eclectic. The crime fiction I read includes Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, the Maigret series, John le Carré and Graham Greene. From the art world, it is Robert Hughes — his books like The Shock of the New. Then there is Junot Díaz, Shehan Karunatilaka, George Saunders. As a writer, I am not conscious of specific influences. But reading good literature acts as a trigger in many ways. It also tells you to write the best you can.

How would you describe your involvement with the art world?

I’ve been engaged with the art world since 1988 and wear the insider label. I owe much to art/ artists, who keep reappearing in my works. My transformation from businessman to writer would not have happened if artists had not taken me under their wings and introduced me to different forms of art, music and poetry.

What are your views on contemporary Indian writing in English?

Writing in English has a new companion — translated works. Since so many translations from Indian languages are now appearing, established regional writers are now accessible to English-speaking readers. This augurs well.

What is the role of art and literature in society?

There is no role that art has to play or a novel has to fulfill. Both forms exist. To question their purpose is like asking what we are doing on earth. I think readers have a role to play in society, not writers.

The interviewer is a Bengaluru-based independent journalist and writer.

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2021 7:39:31 PM |

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