Vikram Chandra – India and USA

Vikram Chandra is an Indian writer who has won awards and critical acclaim for his novels and short stories. He is married to writer Melanie Abrams, who, like Chandra, teaches creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley. Chandra currently divides his time between Mumbai (Bombay), India and Oakland, California … (full text).

Biography on his website; on Contemporary Writers; .

He says: … “I guess I had a general sense that I wanted to get a sense of the place as people lived in it in the turn of the century (1999 to 2000, not 1899 to 1900….for a moment I was confused and I thought I may have read the wrong book) and now. I think the way I went about it was to try to keep close to the various experiences of the characters. In other words, Sartaj sitting around in a traffic jam, which we often do in the city, so it was staying close to the physical and mental state of the characters during that time. And I guess what happens is if you achieve that detail from one scene to the next it all adds up to something that suggests the whole. Though you can’t really capture it, it’s always illusive” … (full interview text).

His website.


Vikram Chandra – India and USA

Watch the video: Story Hour in the Library – Vikram Chandra, 57.23 min, March 2, 2008.

Sacred Games is a novel as big, ambitious, multi-layered, contradictory, funny, sad, scary, violent, tender, complex, and irresistible as India itself. Steep yourself in this story, enjoy the delicious masala Chandra has created, and you will have an idea of how the country manages to hang together despite age-old hatreds, hundreds of dialects, different religious practices, the caste system, and corruption everywhere. The Game keeps it afloat … (full text of Amazon Editorial Review, Aug. 7th, 2008).

Find him and his publications on amazon (121 Results); on his website /partial Bibliography; on wikipedia /list of works; on Google Video-search; on inauthor Google-search; on Google Book-search; on Google Scholar-search; on Google Group-search; on Google Blog-search.

Over 8,000 Indian professors are enriching university campuses all across the United States with many holding top positions in their respective fields and making their mark.
In an era of the global economy some of the brightest minds shaping international economics include Amartya Sen of Harvard University and Jagdish Bhagwati of New York’s Columbia University … Several noted Indian-American writers like Bharati Mukherjee, Vikram Chandra and Amitava Ghosh teach creative writing in major US universities … (full text, February 20, 2007).

… Last week’s coverage of the Assam bomb blasts had something new and something very old. Something very old: constant interruptus, the television disorder afflicting anchors who invite someone to speak but never allow them to. As in:

  • Vikram Chandra (The Big Fight): Jayanti Natarajan, why is the Centre, so slow to act in Maharashtra?
  • Natarajan: I don’t agree with the framing of your question, there were three different cases…
  • Chandra: Alright, let’s take an audience poll on how many of you think the Centre was slow? Everyone.
  • Natarajan: That’s because you did not let me finish my sentence … (full text, Nov 14, 2008).

And then he says: … “I’ve been interested in this for a long time, just like anybody else reading the newspapers. Then, when I was writing the last book, which was the collection of short stories in which Sartaj Singh first appeared, I made contact during my research with some people from that world, though that story had nothing to do with organized crime. I became friends with a couple of these guys and they would tell me stories about what really went on behind the headlines. So as I was finishing my last book, I was already starting to think of this as a possible topic” … (full interview text).

… The characters themselves are swept up by circumstances beyond their control. While their stories begin very far apart from each other, they are eventually linked with each other. In one inset, we are told about K. D. Yadav, the intelligence operative, who kills two people involved in the Naxalite movement in the late 1960s or early 1970s somewhere in eastern India. In another inset very late in the book, the son of one of these people recruits a struggling but educated Muslim youth called Adil. After a career as a revolutionary, Adil becomes disillusioned and escapes to Bombay, where he organizes small robberies … (full text, September 24, 2008).

Chandra’s Love and Longing in Bombay is a collection of five loosely connected short stories. The titles are in Sanskrit and they are as follows: Dharma (duty), Shakti (creative female power), Kama (desire), Artha (gain), Shanti (peace). I looked it up on an online Sanskrit-English dictionary … (full text, June 24, 2008).

He says also: … “Well, first of all, I like teaching. It takes me out of myself. I have a tendency to just camp out in some little hole with a computer and books and not emerge for a week, and that’s actually bad for me,” Chandra answered. He acknowledged that the book advance is mind-boggling, especially for “Sacred Games,” a 1,200-page tome that Chandra says is a Victorian-Indian-gangster-spy-family saga. And yet, his family upbringing has conditioned him to be thankful for such a windfall, but never to count on it. “The numbers are large – thank God – but to actually raise a family even on that amount of money, even if you invested it, is not workable. It’s been strange to even think like this, but you actually need more” … (full interview text).

This is a quote from Vikram Chandra and although it specifically addresses Indian literature and criticism, I find it applies to all cultures and broad issues of the written word and the world around it: “There will always be a prevailing market and a prevailing ideology, and a head of department who fiercely upholds that prevailing ideology, a head of department whose cousin owns the press that publishes the books, whose cousin’s best friend reviews the books for the Sunday paper, whose cousin’s best friend’s cousin gives out the government grants and the fellowships to Paris. All art is born at this crossroads of ambition and integrity, between the fierce callings of fame and the hungers of the belly and the desires of one’s children and the necessities of art and truth … “, (full text, October 25, 2008).

Further he says: … “Well, crime has certainly been treated a lot in Indian movies and other media over the last twenty years, but it was more immediate to me because I’ve grown up on the peripheries of the film industry. I knew people who were getting extortion calls and getting shot at. And then it came very close to home. My brother-in-law, the producer and director of “Mission Kashmir,” started getting these calls, and he refused to pay up, and suddenly there were armed bodyguards following him around. So quite apart from the general feeling that one had in the 80s and 90s about the increasing power of organized crime, this was all happening to me and my family, to people I love. That was the immediate provocation” … (full interview text).

Love, by far, is the collection’s most pervasive theme. In “Shakti,” it is a forbidden love that comes to unite two families. Rivaling socialites Sheila Bijlani and Dolly Boatwalla must abandon their differences for the sake of the love that exists between Sheila’s son and Dolly’s daughter. It is in “Shakti” that Chandra impresses upon his readers the hopefulness of love. Both “Kama” and “Artha” further explore the themes of love and desire. Subramaniam recounts Sikh policeman Sartaj Singhís investigation of a marital murder in “Kama,” a homicide which the main narrator, Ranjit, too easily dismisses as a crime of passion. Singh, however, uncovers the true tawdry tangled tale of love and betrayal that exists between husband and wife. In the meantime, Singh must also face his own demons of desire when his ex-wife reenters his life. Homosexual love as well as the loss of love are examined in “Artha.” Computer programmer Iqbal Akbar confronts a horrible truth about the underworld life of his own lover, Rajesh, while Sandhya, Iqbal’s co-worker and friend, discovers and effectively eliminates the infidelities of her artsy beau. In Love and Longing in Bombay, Chandra reveals a striking talent for story-telling: indeed, some critics have likened his artistry of fable-weaving to that exhibited in Arabian Nights and The Canterbury Tales (Frank) … (full text).

In the tradition of his favorite childhood writers, Dickens, Thackeray and the “curiously forgotten James Hadley Chase,” Vikram Chandra explores the seamier sides of human relations. In Chandra’s latest, sprawling novel, Sacred Games, his backdrop is Bombay, a city steeped in corruption from head to toe. Reading three short sections, the author introduces us to some key characters, including Sartaj Singh, a detective from Chandra’s last book, Love and Longing in Bombay, who navigates the underworld and politics; and Ganesh Gaitonde, a ruthless gangster who slashes and bribes his way to the top of a crime kingdom … (full text).

… The latest intercontinental “it” book out of India hits America this month with the 900-plus pages of Vikram Chandra’s big novel “Sacred Games.” Harper Collins won the US bidding war with a million-dollar advance on a sprawling saga of life and death in the underworld of Mumbai — Bombay. A police inspector and a maximum gangster square off on apocalypse and the meaning of life. Critics say “Sacred Games” is where “Crime and Punishment” meets “The Godfather”, with “The Sopranos” irony and a Bollywood beat. Vikram Chandra should know. His life these days is half Mumbai, half California and all about “the book” … (full text, January 12, 2007).

And he says: … “Actually, I didn’t expect the gap to be this long. When I began work on Sacred Games I thought I was writing a very different, shorter book. I was reacting to the environment in Mumbai and, in a larger sense, the country in the 1980s and 1990s. What I’d imagined was a very local book about the tapori down the street. But it soon became clear that in dealing with crime, the connections with all the other things are really important – politics, religion, the larger geopolitical tensions of the subcontinent. Talking to a senior police officer in Mumbai, I asked him about an encounter involving automatic weapons, which had happened barely 50 feet from my house – my father and I actually heard it. The man said to me, “Listen, I can tell you the story of this shooter who was killed – who he was, where he came from, and about the cop who brought him down – but if you really want to understand what’s happening and why, you have to talk to these other people …” What he was implying was that the layers of various other things that connected to this incident were larger than what my limited vision suggested. The local guy is connected to a larger don who in turn has been recruited into a much larger game. At that point the book started becoming bigger. It began to encompass the narrative of the nation-state and even went back in time to Partition, the effects of which still roll on in our lives” … (full interview text).

3 books presented on his website /publications:

  • Sacred Games is a literary novel that is also a crime novel, a detective story, and a thriller. Sartaj Singh, a seasoned and cynical Bombay police officer, is summoned by an anonymous tip one morning, by a voice which promises him an opportunity to capture the powerful Ganesh Gaitonde, criminal overlord of the G-Company … (full text);
  • Love and Longing in Bombay is a collection of short stories. In a waterfront bar in Bombay, an enigmatic civil servant tells stories to a group of friends. In “Dharma,” an old soldier returns home to find that his house is haunted by the spirit of a small child; in “Shakti,” two great ladies engage in ruthless drawing-room warfare; in “Kama,” a policeman investigating a murder journeys into the mysteries of his own heart … (full text);
  • Red Earth and Pouring Rain is a tale told by a young Indian student and a typing monkey, and also a novel about exile, about Indians abroad and foreigners in India, about the processes of national and cultural and personal redefinitions implicit in these juxtapositions. This is also a novel about how stories are born and how stories sustain us. The stories in this book take in 19th century India, punk bands in L.A., MTV, Rajput warriors … (full text).

He writes also: … SUCH WAS MY JOURNEY into the wilderness, from which I was delivered by the laughter of Borges-bhai. Having made this journey, I must speak now to my own biradari, my brothers and sisters who are artists. To them, I say: ignore the commissars, whether they come from the left or the right, up or down, India or abroad. Be wary of their praise, because their hospitality is a prison. They will kidnap the cow of your plenty. Be ruthlessly practical, like the bhais of Bombay, those CCTV-using, Glock-firing, Bholenath-worshipping gangsters. Do whatever it takes to get the job done. Use whatever you need. Swagger confidently through all the world, because it all belongs to you. And don’t worry about tradition. Whatever you do felicitously will be Indian. It cannot be otherwise. If Bholenath speaks to you, put him in your painting, or your story. The inevitable fact that some reader in New Jersey will find Bholenath’s tiger skin and matted hair “exotic” is wholly irrelevant. To be self-consciously anti-exotic is also to be trapped, to be censored. Be free. Give up nothing, and swallow everything. In your work, don’t be afraid of elephants and snakes and mystical India. If repetition and misuse have emptied out an image, a metaphor, a trope, rendered it void of meaning and substance, your job as an artist then is to be wily; you must slide sideways under the metaphor, take it onto your skin and inhabit it, then twist it, mangle it, pervert it, until it becomes your own and therefore comes alive again. You have to repossess what was once yours, what is still yours. To give up a metaphor because someone else has abused it is reflexive stupidity; you are again letting “them” take the initiative, letting them decide what is still yours and what is not. You are giving up ground. India is full of elephants and snakes and mysticism, and also cell phones and nuclear weapons and satellites. Give up nothing, and swallow everything. Be fearless, like that suave cosmopolitan M. K. Gandhi, that most international of khiladis, who told us repeatedly that while his political gurus were Gokhale and Ranade and Tilak, his spiritual gurus were Tolstoy and Thoreau and Ruskin, and that he got his non-violence not from the Gita, but from the Sermon on the Mount. Remember that Gandhi’s audience was not just Indian, but also everyone else; that all his actions, the spectacle of his revolution and the revolution of his self, were performed simultaneously before a local audience and a global one. He spoke to us, to those he loved, but in speaking to us he was also speaking to all the world, and in speaking to the world he wanted nothing less than to change all of it. Be fearless, speak fearlessly to your readers, wherever they are, and be aware that as you speak, you will inevitably be attacked by some critics for being not Indian enough, for being too Indian, too Westernized, too exoticized, too rich, for being a foreigner, an agent of the CIA. This is also wholly irrelevant. Do your job. Be kind to other artists, whether they paint in Gujarati or Marathi or English. Be generous. Take care of each other, and give shelter to each other against the depredations of the commissars. Finally, once our personal quarrels are over, what is good for a Gujarati painter is good for an English writer is good for a Marathi poet … (full long text).


What I’m Reading: Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra, by Ko, 31 Oct 2008;

NDTV represents the ignorant, English-speaking Indian middle class, by Venkateshwar Parsa Rao Jr., September 20, 2008;

Tomales Bay event gives writers a sense of community, by Rob Rogers, Oct. 26, 2008;

The new, darkly hilarious India, by John Grooms, Nov. 11, 2008.

Muniyappa’s team wins, Nov 10, 2008;

Faith matters in India; relevance matters in The Bee, by C.M. Anderson, Oct. 27, 2008;

On Adiga’s The White Tiger, by AMITAVA KUMAR, 1 Nov 2008;

Vikram Chandra: Der Gott von Bombay / Bombay Paradise, 14. September 2008;

on wikipedia:

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