Some years ago I read Amitabha Bagchi’s first novel Above Average with a mounting sense of excitement. I was a member of a jury for a book award and this was my first choice. Though Above Average was shortlisted and I fought furiously for it, the book didn’t win. Juries are ruled by the law of averages and another book that won a middling score from all jury members went on to win.
The Householder takes forward the promise held in the first book. Here is fine grounded writing. Here is a book whose very quietness is its grace. Read this Q & A to know what underlines Amitabha Bagchi’s style of writing. Do click on the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eq5gvLA040M&feature=youtu.be to watch what The Householder is all about.
Amitabha Bagchi’s first novel, Above Average, was published in 2007 by HarperCollins India and became a bestseller. His second novel, The Householder, has been published in April 2012 by Fourth Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins India. He lives in New Delhi with his wife and son.
Soaring into heaven moment:
Perhaps it is my personality that the big events of my life either stun me into silence or drive me to tears. And I generally experience happiness not as euphoria but a mellow quiet feeling that envelops me. But I have had soaring in heaven experiences, the most recent a few weeks ago when my wife and I stopped at Adyar Anand Bhawan in Green Park for a coffee. We decided to get a single piece of Milk Mysore Pak and share it. When my half of that single piece touched my tongue, when it began to settle and slowly dissolve–a process that I found myself visualizing at the molecular level in my mind’s eye, each particle separating out from a perfect but loose crystalline structure–I felt my muscles relax and my neck tilt back involuntarily. When my eyes opened, I saw my wife recovering from something similar. She smiled at me. “There are people watching,” she said.
That infernal fire time:
A moment arrives a few minutes after reading a rejection letter, all of us who have ever ventured and been disappointed know it, when the first lick of disappointment gives way to anger, then a sense of inadequacy, followed by frustration.
There is an attempt to explain what has happened, to soften the blow by citing factors that don’t lie within oneself, there is the temptation–sometimes overwhelming–to rage at an unsympathetic world.
The dreams of what could have been, cruelly interrupted, do not disappear. Instead they turn poisonous. A day passes, perhaps a restless night, and slowly an adjustment is made. What is not to be yours is weighed against what you already have, and slowly the flames begin to weaken. Eventually the thought comes: “What can I do with this now?” And some answer emerges. That manuscript, or research paper, or short story, is then reformatted if necessary and sent out to yet another place. And you enter purgatory again.
The purgatory point:
Like most writers and scientists, I have spent most of my time waiting. Waiting for the work to reach its end and then waiting for someone to reply and tell you that they will publish it.
Nevertheless, more so than the moment of success or the moment of failure, it is this waiting that is the writer’s friend.
It is the waiting that can make you into a better person, because it is the waiting that, you begin to realize, can eventually destroy your soul if you do not imagine your way into living with all the possible eventualities.
One and a half years, 1 draft and 60,000 words thereafter, would you do this differently and again?
I wouldn’t write The Householder differently if I had to write it again. There was a lot of working out of characters and structure before the actual writing. I normally spend a lot of time convincing myself that particular choices will work before beginning to type. And so, by the end of it, I’m convinced that this is probably the best way in which I could have treated this subject. Also, because of all the backing and forthing, I also feel like moving ahead from a project once I’m done.
What does Amitabha Bagchi the writer fear the most?
Fear is a complicated and omnipresent thing, in my life as in the life of most people.
To point to one fear and to crown it king would be pointless because it would only tell the reader about this moment when I am typing these lines out.
To uncover the deeper structure of our fears would be uncover the mysteries of human life itself, I sometimes think. It’s an ambitious and interesting project, the phenomenology of fear, but one I am afraid of approaching.
What does Amitabha Bagchi the writer desire the most?
A calm and clear mind, I think, is one of the best things one can have. If someone was selling such a thing I would buy it at whatever price they were asking for. Unfortunately I haven’t seen it on flipkart yet, so, just like everyone else, I am trying to organize it for myself, with the same kind of mixed success that everyone else has.
What does Amitabha Bagchi the writer hate the most?
Hatred is to writers what smoking is to opera singers: a habit that can kill their art. The writers I really admire are transparent in their love for the world, they seem to have conquered hatred at least in individual works. I am not talking about their lives because I don’t think it is particularly easy for a living human being to completely conquer hatred, I am talking only about their works. WG Sebald stands out as a shining example in this context. Reading his work I get the same feeling that one gets when hearing a Param Vir Chakra citation being read out on Republic Day. Sebald was a warrior in the battle against hatred. He was battered and broken by it (again I am not talking about his life, but only his works). But staggering along, his body full of the enemy’s bullets, he kept fighting till he died.