Bombay not Mumbai is at the heart of my new book: Siddharth Dhanwant Sanghvi (Interview)

December 26th, 2008 - 9:48 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 26 (IANS) Writer Siddharth Dhanwant Sanghvi, whose book “The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay”, was nominated for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008, is awaiting the release of his book in India next February.”The book is lean, angular and powered by political rage,” the author told IANS in an email interview from Mumbai.

Shanghvi finds the culture of awards a bit strange because “some really awful books win prizes. But ultimately, good books - great stories - triumph.”

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: How has the style of Indo-Anglian writing changed over the last three to four years?

A: The current narrative has become more direct, and authorial engagement with modernity has raised the canon out of cliches of chillies and arranged marriages to the dazzling ugliness of the here and the now. The downside is that a lot of modern Indian novels trivialise poverty with depictions of gratuitous harshness. If you scratch it; there is a tenderness in India at every level.

Q: In the “Lost Flamingos of Bombay”, you have used the symbol of delicate “flamingo” people who have flocked to the city to make their fortunes. If we place the present Mumbai after the 26/11 terror strikes, how would we interpret the situation? And the politics of terror that ravaged the city?

A: The terrorist attacks not only showcased the remarkable failure of the government and the glaring absence of leadership, they allowed public anger to manifest with brute force.

For the first time since Independence, the idea of a people’s movement overthrowing a despotic, useless government has reaffirmed itself. During colonisation, people wrestled with the idea of freedom from the British. Today, my generation wants freedom to a better government. The search - and the anger - have returned.

Q. If you were to rethink on writing “Flamingoes…” now, how would you do it?

A. I wouldn’t change a word. A work of art, when it bears witness to a moment with profound integrity, holds resonance across time.

Q. Your style is very lyrical, profound and wistful. Is it a conscious effort or does it have something to do with your life and childhood?

A. Thank you for your kind words. The style you extol was relevant to “The Last Song of Dusk”, a youthful extravagance. (I wrote the book when I was 22.) “The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay” is lean, angular, powered by political rage, and an admiration for beauty in all things. I’m curious to see how readers will respond to this style, and I shall discover in February, when the book is released after six years of work.

Q. Please share a bit about your childhood? You were brought up in Mumbai and studied abroad - how has the city, sea, its showbiz, urban alienation and the sense of “not-belonging” impacted your style and content? What is it you try to convey through your writing?

A. Bombay - not Mumbai - is at the heart of my new novel: its toxicity, its demented furies, the failures of love and friendship, the political machinations, the social engineering, the conflict between private desire and public realm: all these find relief in “The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay”.

I could never write an Indian novel, but I actively attempted to write a Bombay novel: a novel that captures the dizzy heartbeat of the city that grew me up. I never wanted to write something big; I wanted only to tell a small, simple story, and with abundant love and lightness. Without Bombay being what it is, I could never write.

Even the act of holding on to Bombay - in my title and through a 400-page novel - is an act of political defiance. The name of the city was changed without consultation of citizenry by a rabidly right-wing government that did not have the best interests of the city in mind. It was a triumph of political despotism. Every time I say or write Bombay, I tell the Shiv Sena that they didn’t get me. And they never will.

Q. What are you working on now?

A. The “Lost Flamingoes of Bombay” will be my last novel. I don’t know what I will do next. Perhaps get a house in the country, and move there.

Q. How does it feel being nominated for the Asian literary prize? Do you think the literary awards do justice to Indian writers?

A. It’s important to stress that prizes honour books, not authors. When “The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay” was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize I felt like a bit of a fraud going for the ceremony in Hong Kong because it was really about the book; I was the third wheel.

I find the whole prize culture a bit strange because some really awful books win prizes. But ultimately, good books - and great stories - triumph.

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