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November 03, 2016

Aravind Adiga On His Latest Book Selection Day

Text by Huzan Tata

The Man Booker Prize winning author talks about his characters, cricket and what drives him as a writer

On finding inspiration…
“Some mornings, I walk around Fort, the heart of Mumbai, and write down all the crazy names and labels I see on shops. I’ve done this for years and yet there is always something new to surprise me. Whose imagination is rich enough to conjure up just this small patch of Mumbai? Why, when India offers such extraordinary stimuli to an artist, would you not want to start a novel with your eyes and ears? At the same time, the writer’s imagination has to challenge, interpret and give shape to the information coming in from the world.”

Identifying with his characters…
“Every character is, I think, some aspect of me, which means I hate and love each one in equal measure. The cricket scout Tommy Sir’s interests most clearly align with my own. Much as he does, I love the paintings of Van Gogh, and I worked on a history of the Third Battle of Panipat before abandoning it. Like Javed Ansari, one of the young cricketers featured in the novel, I too liked wearing full-sleeved white shirts when I was younger; and like him, I began losing my hair when I was about 16.”

On choosing cricket as a theme…
“As a boy, I played cricket; as an adult I watch cricket; I will always love the game. But that doesn’t blind me to the fact that it has become something grotesque right now. When I told my friends the central question of Selection Day — what if the next Sachin Tendulkar turns out to be a boy who does not want to play cricket, but just wants to live a normal life — they said, ‘No Indian boy does not love cricket.’ They refused to accept the premise that interrogated the game as it exists today. That was the challenge. Not only does it tug at the powerful emotions and sentiments of most Indians, but cricket is also a monolith, a colossus, in our country. Billions of dollars, legally and illegally, revolve around the game. To get into a fight today with cricket in India seems a hopeless task. Naturally, I had to try.”

On awards and labels…
“Any label is constricting; it’s a problem. I admire authors like Amitav Ghosh who reinvent themselves so frequently and so consummately that you can never label them. For me, the challenge that lies ahead is reinvention — to make sure that the next time I’m interviewed by Verve, the first question is, ‘My god, what a totally crazy novel this is — we never expected this! Have you gone nuts at last, Aravind?’ Going nuts on a regular basis, taking a huge risk with each new book is the only way to grow as a writer.”

Advice for aspiring writers…
“Decades ago, when I was a student at Oxford University, I used to get my hair cut every month by an old barber who always impressed me with his knowledge of every subject on earth, from British parliamentary history to quantum physics. One day, I asked him: “But how on earth do you know so much? How does a barber like you learn to talk about quantum physics?”

He looked at me for a second, and said, “Because I’m three times as old as you, son, and I’ve kept my ears open the whole time.” I felt stupid for days, but I wrote his words down in my diary. It’s excellent advice for young writers too. Never stop listening.”

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