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May 2, 2006   

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'There is still tremendous resistance to my work'

You are undeniably an established writer, in the sense that your work will attract a lot of attention whether you decide to talk about it or not. And you are often described as a writer who stays away from the public eye. Now, the media says you have decided to come out of hiding. Why?

This sounds priggish, but I am more than willing to talk if it is with someone I am comfortable conversing with. The problem is Cuckold was ignored altogether. Its readership grew very gradually. Some people who found out about it quite late were annoyed with me and said they would take over this time. So, you might not see the nose-ring, but I really am being led by the nose now (laughs).

Interestingly, as with Cuckold initially, there hasn't been a single important review of God's Little Soldier in any major publication. There are features, yes, but no reviews. So, there is still tremendous resistance to my work. I find that slightly puzzling. I would have thought that, even though I am not published abroad, I would be taken seriously by now. But that is not the case.

There have been a couple of reviews...

Yes, but look at the kind of reviews. When I write a book like this, I would also like to come to terms with it, and with what the reviews have to say. If someone uses terms like 'literary terrorism' or 'vagabond prose' to describe parts of it, for instance, they should define it. What is vagabond prose anyway? Grandiloquent nouns? When you're going to say that about Kiran Nagarkar, you had better come out with some really strong points. I would have thought the task of reviewing would be given to people mature enough to do it.

I take criticism very seriously, however damaging it is. If it is damaging, that is all the more reason to take it seriously, provided it is well reasoned. So, your assumptions that I am now taken seriously need to be examined. I am not.

Are you concerned about the quality, or lack, of criticism then?

One of the things I have missed throughout -- and this would hold true even if I weren't a writer -- is this: When are we going to do serious criticism? We had a solid tradition of it until the British came along. Even Kabir, Tukaram or Dnyaneshwar were, ultimately, very serious critics of society. What has happened now? If I am going to take the trouble to write, there certainly has to be a space where authors and critics can meet. And I find that completely absent.

For instance, when I studied under Dr R B Patankar (at the University of Mumbai), he was in correspondence with possibly the biggest playwright we have had in the last 50 years -- Vasant Kanetkar. Patankar wrote letters to Kanetkar that were superb examples of constructive criticism. I have never forgotten this. He told Kanetkar he was taking the trouble to write so the playwright would write back. He knew they had to have a dialogue. It was the kind of criticism from which an author could learn endlessly. I have this precedent. I have seen the other man refusing to respond, whereas I would like to. And I find that is out of the question. There is no room here for serious criticism or dialogue.

But, not so long ago, there was a book of criticism -- The Shifting Worlds of Kiran Nagarkar's Fiction -- with essays on the humour in your work, on realism and the non-rational in Cuckold, on the local and universal aspect of your novels. How comfortable were you with that sort of analysis? Did you agree with what was being said?

It was serious criticism but, at the same time, there was no room for the author to get into the picture. Some of it I certainly agreed with. Who doesn't like to be taken seriously? There were interesting points being made. For instance, I was initially annoyed with Makarand (Paranjpe) for making much of the fact that I was a Chitpavan Brahmin, but I later realised he was trying to point out that (the poet) Arun Kolatkar and I, along with a few others, were outsiders to our own milieu. I had never thought about that.

Because I come from a Brahmo family, there always was, from my childhood, a lot of dissonance between my family's culture and that of the people with whom I was staying. It was an extremely important dissonance in my life, with repression all around. So, there is definite gratitude for that.

Image: Kiran Nagarkar at home. (inset) His novel Ravan and Eddie, and the book of criticism on his work.

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