I am an instinctive writer

Updated: Apr 9 2006, 05:30am hrs
Kiran Nagarkars latest novel, with its examination of the role of religious fanaticism across religions, is bound to raise quite a few shackles across the board. And not many writers say they are terrified of their protagonist. Suman Tarafdar speaks to the author to know what goes behind the writing of this major novel.

Your previous novels have been landmarks as and when they came out. But given the extensive gaps, would you say you are a sporadic writer

Well, not exactly. I started writing my first novel, Saat Sakkam Trechalis (Seven Sixes are Forty Three) in 1967, which was published in 1974. Written in Marathi, it has just sold 1,500 copies in 25 years. And then I wrote Bedtime Stories, which got me into a fair amount of trouble. So there was disappointment, and I was not a good enough writer to be determined nevertheless and write a book a year!

The turning point came in 1991, when on a minor scholarship to Chicago, I wrote Ravan and Eddie. Since then there has been Cuckold, in 1997.

You have also been accused of shifting away from Marathi.

Marathi critics have levelled that accusation. But they don't realise that though my first novel was in Marathi, I have studied Marathi for only four years in school. Cuckold has had a fine Marathi translation ready for three years, but no publisher is ready to print it. And an author can survive only if there is readership, though I accept that my books won't make money.

Tell us a bit about God's Little Soldier.

I am an instinctive writer, but at the same time self aware and watchful. And I do like to set out with an agenda. Here I wanted to show that extremism in itself has become a credo for certain individuals. And they need not come from say a madrassa background, and can be highly intelligent and sharp.

Zia, the character around whom the story revolves, is brilliant at mathematics, gets top quality education in India and England, but his religious beliefs, whether as a Muslim or later Christian or part-Hindu, are actually that of an extremist.

Unlike for protagonists in other novels, there is very little that is likeable about him. Is that on purpose Also the satirical and humorous aspects are far less evident than in your earlier novels

I think there are good qualities in Zia-Lucens-Tejas. As his brother Amanat put it You are a good man, gone very very bad. And to be honest, I was terrified out of my wits about him. But there is the integrity of the novel, and it demanded that he behave in the way he does.

When it comes to my writing, I like to think that I do not make compromises. I realise that there has not been such a negative character in recent literature.

Also there is little to redeem any of the characters Amanat, Ammijaan, Abbajaan by the end of the novel There is a sense of loneliness for them.

I have never believed in poetic justice. Not just Zia, but all the other characters are flawed as well, and they have humane sides to them too. And you can only explain things up to a point. Ammijaan, for example, would deserve her own novel. Yes, there are many wonderful people in real life who are amazingly lonely.

What about Shaktha Muni

I have been intrigued by people like Dhirendra Brahmachari and the hold he had over Mrs Gandhi. Or Rao and Chandraswami. And connection between power, guns, religion

What reactions are you expecting from the reader

I would like to see him unsettled. Indians don't seem to have an organ called doubt. I would like them to question more their elders, gurus. There are things that one has to find out for oneself. Also I believe the message should not be upfront but slither in insidiously, subliminally.

And how do you view modern Indian writing

I am not so keen to pat our backs just yet. Theres still some way to go before we have a solid body of work. But the next generations will be worth looking out for.