Amitava Kumar on his new Patna book


Rats_matterofratsYou resolve, after finding and being disappointed by ‘Napoleon’s bed’ in Patna, to “look for more ordinary things, not least the people who made up Patna”. What did writing this book do for your relationship with the city?
Any relationship, even one with a city, requires work. I realise I’m repeating a cliché about relationships. A friend recently expressed frustration with that frequent assertion by asking, “Work? Why shouldn’t a relationship require joy instead?” That’s a good point. Why don’t people say that any relationship requires a lot of pleasure? Which brings me to your question. I had become a stranger to my city. A part of the joy of writing this book was recovering a degree of intimacy with it.

Did writing A Matter of Rats cure you of the nostalgia to which migrants are so prone? Does nostalgia need a cure?
Just the other night I was at a birthday party in Delhi for an artist friend. The friend whose birthday we were celebrating said to me, over and over, with the kind of persistence and patience you acquire when you’re drunk, “Listen, you must get rid of your nostalgia. Look at me! Are you listening? Get rid of your nostalgia.” The fact is that what she was calling nostalgia was for me only an act of remembering. To write is to remember what you had tried to forget. I have always felt that when writing about Patna. Nostalgia isn’t the right word for it. It is more like recovery.

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