Amitava Kumar’s latest collection of essays throws a bright light on cinema and politics, life and death: The Hindu BusinessLine
With five non-fiction books and a novel behind him, the professor of English at Vassar College in New York spends a night answering questions sent by email. Here he reveals the times he gasps, ‘yeh sahi cheez hai (this is the right thing), the role of writers and reporters and the Booker wins that he finds laughable. Excerpts from the interview.
The relationship of Indians with the English language is of special interest to you. In which ways do Indians use it best and in which ways do we mangle it?
I have often seen signs in Bihar, but also elsewhere in India, saying ‘Child Beer Sold Here’. I was delighted when Siddhartha Chowdhury used that in a novel. There is no pleasure in being prescriptive about language. I enjoy the inventive ways in which language is manipulated to make meaning. But even as I say this, I have to acknowledge that I often get mails from people in India who want advice about writing. And while reading their letters, my first impulse, quite often, is to ask them to read George Orwell.
If I could I would assume the lotus position, left hand resting in my lap, right hand held upright with the index finger resting upon the thumb and the other fingers fanning out in a pleasing way. If anyone came to me I would offer the mantra: ‘Write simply. Be direct’. Or quote from the Vedas of Strunk and White: ‘Omit needless words’.