Crafting Happiness: Amitava Kumar on Akhil Sharma

A writer is not his books, says Amitava Kumar. He is only as good as his sentences. Reading and meeting Akhil Sharma proves his point: Indian Quarterly

akhil_sharmaAt the beginning of Akhil Sharma’s new book, Family Life, there is a description of the narrator’s father outside their two-room barsaati on a rooftop in Delhi. The bathroom has a sink attached to the outside wall. Here is the sentence I want to share with you: “Each night my father would stand before the sink, the sky full of stars, and brush his teeth till his gums bled.”

Upon reading that sentence, I have stepped into the world of Akhil Sharma’s writing. Simple words, simple phrases; but there is nothing simple about the world being described. There are the stars, and there is blood—in the same breath, we have both beauty and death.

I’m tempted to say there is something very Indian about this contradictory reality, but other writers have also produced such worlds. For example, Isaac Babel (1894-1940). Think of his classic story, “My First Goose”, and the way in which its sentences embrace opposites: “Savitsky, Commander of the VI Division, rose when he saw me, and I wondered at the beauty of his giant’s body … His long legs were like girls sheathed to the neck in shining riding boots.”

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