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Fiction writing is more demanding: Amitava Kumar


Updated: July 22, 2013, 6:00 PM IST
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Fiction writing is more demanding: Amitava Kumar
Author Amitava Kumar joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on his book 'A Matter of Rats'.

It is not only the past that lies in ruins in Patna, it is also the present. But that is not the only truth about the city that the author explores in this vivid, entertaining account of his hometown. We accompany him on journeys and memories through many Patnas, the myriad cities within the city the shabby reality of the present-day capital of Bihar; Pataliputra, the storied city of emperors; the dreamlike embodiment of the city in the minds and hearts of those who have escaped its confines... Full of fascinating observations and perspective, 'A Matter of Rats' reveals a challenging and entertaining city which exerts a lasting pull on all those who drift into its orbit. Author Amitava Kumar joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on his book 'A Matter of Rats'.

Q. Hi, what are your suggestions for new authors? Asked by: Deepak

A. Aman Sethi ka "A Free Man" padha kyaa aap ne?

Q. What is your typical day like? Asked by: sri

A. I wake up with my kids and then after I have dropped them off at school I drink coffee and write. Later I go to teach and then come home and cook. Baad mein, Facebook...

Q. Who/what inspired you to write this book? Asked by: Gunjan

A. David Davidar, from Aleph, asked me to write the book.

Q. Hello AK, A wonderful read. You have been a wordsmith for some time now. Do you think cities as a genre of writing has been underplayed when it comes to English language writing in India. And I won't call 'City of Djinns' a novel about Delhi. Though Suketu Mehta's book is really a great work when it comes to writing about cities. Asked by: Kannan Iyer

A. You know, even before Suketu's wonderful book, there was Pankaj Mishra's Butter Chicken in Ludhiana. Not about cities but small towns. A great start. We should have more of such stuff.

Q. The temple just as you come out of the railway station has scores of visitors..There must be a decent offerings from devotees too. Could it not be better maintained? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. You are talking of the Mahavir Temple. It is doing much better than fifteen or twenty years ago.

Q. Gandhi maidan, the lung of Patna is maintained by whom? Could not that be made a little more green with flowering plants all around.This lung space is used to express the lung power of netas, They could make it more with freshness of the greens? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. I understand what you're saying but you know I never thought of Gandhi Maidan as the lung. The botanical garden comes closer to that idea.

Q. The large silo in the city.Unique in it's presence. What is it used as now? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. Gol Ghar! The story goes that it didn't have doors opening to the outside and therefore wasn't used to store grain during famines in the last century. But I have seen workers taking sacks inside... I have also seen rats there.

Q. Heritage buildings in Patna.Who takes care of them? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. Yaar, saare questions maintenance ke baare mein aarahen hain. These are questions for the municipal commissioner, not for a writer!

Q. Ganges flows through Patna. Why is there no safe Ghats for Bathing and a cleaner environment at the present places of Bathing? Asked by: sundar1950in

A. See my last response. The questions addressed to a writer can be about individuals and the details of daily lives. You are not asking them.

Q. As an outsider, how valid do you think is your take on Patna in 'A Matter of Rats'? Asked by: Bahun

A. I grew up in Patna and my parents live there. So I am not entirely an outsider. But I relish the role of being a partial outsider, someone seeing his past with new eyes.

Q. I am sure that you know that a fellow author just joined politics and JDU. Can Bihar be a good launchpad for pseudo-intellectuals desperate to get a public life? Asked by: Ghanshyam

A. Hmmmm. I'm not sure I get the drift of your question. It seems like the premise of bad satirical novel.

Q. Do you think that A Matter of Rats serves as good fodder for travel writing in India, besides being an exhaustive/subtly sarcastic view on Patna, as we see it today? Asked by: Jigisha

A. Boss, I wasn't reaching for the sarcastic tone in the book. It is an honest attempt at naming emotions, people, places. I hope it will be a part of a growing body of literature on Indian cities.

Q. What inspired you for the title? Why make it about 'rats'? Asked by: Mark

A. Rats are the first to jump off a sinking ship. We are a bit like those rats. I feel I'm a rat who has abandoned his parents in Patna.

Q. I'm still in the process of reading your book. I noticed how there is a strong bifurcation of classes and masses in it. How strongly do you feel about the gap in context of reality? Asked by: Natalie

A. Inequality is really quite evident everywhere. One can't of course simply bemoan the ills. I've tried to represent accurately the joys and the heartbreak.

Q. Your favorite book and author? Asked by: kirti

A. There are always several rather than one. A book I've never recovered from is J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace. Among Indian books I'm very fond of Upamanyu Chatterjee's English, August.

Q. Do you feel this book as a milestone in your career? Asked by: Suhail K Y

A. Sure. It was a great pleasure writing this book. It brought me back to the city that I was losing touch with. It was a delight to draw in clean lines the contours of daily lives.

Q. What's next in store for readers, from you? Asked by: Dev

A. A novel about Biharis in America.

Q. Why choose Patna as your protagonist? Asked by: kirti

A. Eight writers were asked to write about their hometowns. I was commissioned to write about Patna. It is a city whose inhabitants deserve to be the heroes of this story.

Q. Are there any other books in the pipeline? Asked by: Sharon

A. I'm writing about style but my major project is a novel.

Q. Does it really serve a purpose, having a title that resonates your sense of abandonment of your parents and the city you grew up in? Or, writing a book to show a reality that most experience much better than you do? Asked by: Sanjog

A. Any writer can only write, or write best, about their own experience. It is then my story instead of someone else's. I'm approaching the larger story of the city through the lens of my own experience. Please read the Epilogue where I explain why I do this.

Q. What is your take on readership in India? Do you think that online sales will really help garner an intellectual boost in a country where most only read crime thrillers? Asked by: Carter

A. Readership in India is as diverse as readership in other countries. There is a whole range of writing being produced here, and the wide differences among the readers reflects this. I think writers should try to span diverse genre. Then, we'll attract--and educate--readers.

Q. If you had to put yourself in a specific genre as a writer, what would it be? Asked by: Arjun

A. "Good writer." ;-) No, but seriously, I've mostly written non-fiction. I've also written a novel and want to produce a larger body of fiction.

Q. What is something which should be considered "Special" about Patna? Asked by: Abhijeet Kumar

A. There is a lot of tenderness in the city, a lot of warmth, and all around it a great explosion of enterprise.

Q. Do you think this book will be appreciated by the masses? Asked by: Priyanka

A. It will have to start with you! I hope you will read it.

Q. How long did it take you write A Matter of Rats? Did ideating the book take you a long time? Asked by: Anvi

A. It took me a year to write the book. It is a short book.

Q. Hello sir,heartiest congratulation for this new book.sir,what is your advice for amature writers,where they should get their things published and how to manage themselves,to innovate and expand? Asked by: Ashish

A. The best advice I can give--the best advice anyone can give--is to write every day. Try to publish it at the places where you like reading.

Q. Who do you see as the target audience for this book? Asked by: Priyanka

A. I'd like urban audiences in India, but especially Biharis, to read this book. It is a personal portrait of a changing India.

Q. You mentioned that you are a non-fiction writer, but trying to move into the bigger body of fiction writing. How difficult/easy is this transition turning out to be? Asked by: Justin

A. Fiction makes more demands. In non-fiction, you are a manager of narrative, that's all. In fiction, you have to be more inventive. It is a difficult act.

First Published: July 22, 2013, 6:00 PM IST
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