[Issue 13 / 1 May 15]
GREEK MYTHOLOGY, INDIAN CORRUPTION, AND THE TRUTH THAT IS ONLY POSSIBLE IN FICTION
By Kulpreet Yadav
C.P. Surendran is one of India s finest modern poets. His published collections include Portraits of the Space We Occupy (Harper Collins), Canaries on the Moon (Yeti), Posthumous Poems (Penguin Viking), and Gemini II (Penguin Viking). He is the author of two novels, An Iron Harvest and Lost and Found. Until recently he was the editor-in-chief of DNA, India's third-largest-selling newspaper. Earlier, he has been a senior editor and a well-known columnist with the Times of India. His poems have been internationally anthologized, and his awards for writing and journalism include Reuters International Fellowship at Oxford, Wolfson Press Fellowship at Cambridge and British Council Literature Fellowship at Cambridge.
This interview was conducted at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club, New Delhi.
Kulpreet Yadav: What physical corruption can do to the soul, as I understand it, is the basic premise of your latest novel, Hadal. How corrupt is the mind of an average Indian when it comes to professional and personal mobility?
CP Surendran: The word Hadal comes from the Greek word Hades which means another world and it also refers to a region in the sea which is about 23000 feet deep where the pressure and density are very high and so are the undercurrents. In Hadal I have tried to explore the depths of human relationships. To answer the second part of your question, corruption is usually thought of as give or take of money, which of course is one aspect of corruption, but the way as I see it, corruption is also the state in which one loses his innocence. Thinking that the fulcrum in our lives is only power, we are just waiting to be exploited. Miriam, the heroine of Hadal is innocent but the male protagonist, Honey Kumar, is not. He is very imaginative, prurient, sexist, and also corrupt. This is a true story but unlike many true stories in the past that have always been told from the POV of the victim, Hadal is from the POV of a corrupt police officer. At a more general level, I think people respond based on the stimuli. What if one day all the stimuli are removed? I have tried to address this question in Hadal. What are you if you don’t have to respond to anything around you? If you remember there was this incident in the mid-nineties involving Miriam Rashida, a Maldivian citizen, who was in Trivandrum at the time and in need of a VISA extension. To help her with it, Honey Kumar, the protagonist of Hadal, demands sexual favours which she refuses. Since he is aware of her relations with an ISRO engineer, he fabricates a false case against her that she is a spy who has been smuggling cryogenic nuclear information for the fundamentals abroad. This fabrication of truth and upward mobility that got intrinsically linked to the career profile of a lot of people across government and political spectrum, made sure that the truth remained submerged for a long time.
KY: Journalists are known to write facts. Somewhat watered, maybe, but facts. Is writing fiction a release or a revenge?
CPS: I think in our society truth is only possible in fiction. We can’t speak of the facts as we used to in the past. And the reasons are many. For example media houses have their own diversified interests. And if you look at individual blogs, no one is saying much. We have become used to self-censorship, and even the democracy that we are a part of is a big illusion. In my opinion this is not the best time for Indian media in contemporary history. Writing fiction does transport me to an alternate world which too is not perfect just like the real world, but as most writers, I am looking for affirmation too. I want people to understand what I have written and say, ‘Yeah, that was a great story.’ Writing is a tough job because every word has to be connected in some or the other way with every other word that will come later.
KY: I liked ‘Lost and Found’ and its dark humour. But I thought the connecting of the dots was rather filmi. Was it intentional, or were you wrapping up a story that had spread out in too many directions. In short, did you have a plot to begin with?
CPS: It is filmi. But I would like to say that 'Lost and Found' is the kind of book that an average reader won’t understand. The entire book is about ironies and all the regular Indian tropes have been inverted. The separated-twin-brother plot from Bollywood is not the only trope that I have used, there’s the India-Pakistan angle as well. About the mullah being crazy, I think people are crazy, and I think for a considerable part of my life, I thought I was crazy, and it took me a long time to find out that everyone is crazy. So I am normal. And yes, I did have a plot and I am always very particular about plot. But the fact is I have taken dangerous risks with my writing and it has become a learning curve that has helped me in understanding myself.
KY: Why do you write: to make money, or to tell a story. Either way where do you think it will lead you? And what do you expect from the readers of Hadal?
CPS: I would like to believe that from the first word of this book to the last word the reader is drawn in by its unpredictability. This book has a certain pace to it, which, once again I would like to believe, makes it read like a thriller. But this is literature and language is important too. For the reviewer I would like to say that I have chosen to write this book in a language that holds light to certain aspects of life, which the reviewer should take away from this book, and put to use in his own environment. It this book gets a prize, I will be very happy, but here I am fighting for a certain way of looking at life. I too, like all writers, want to be seen through the framework of my work.
KY: Now that we are talking about unpredictability and pace, I would like to know how important are the readers to you when you write?
CPS: One of the problems with Indian readers is that they are not able to judge whether a book is good or not unless it is endorsed by someone aboard.
KY: Fact, fiction and poetry, do you have time for anything else?
CPS: I like go for long walks in quiet places which is really difficult to find in Delhi. I love trees and I’m happy in the mountains. I like to watch movies too.