By Zafar Anjum

Salil Tripathi
Salil Tripathi

Salil Tripathi was born in Bombay, India, and lives in London. He is a contributing editor at Mint and at Caravan in India. In the UK, he was board member of English PEN from 2009 to 2013, and co-chaired PEN’s Writers-at-Risk Committee. In May 2015, he received the Red Ink award from the Mumbai Press Club for human rights journalism. In November 2011, he won a Bastiat Award in New York, and in 1994 in Hong Kong, he received a Citibank Pan Asia Journalism Awards for economic journalism. Salil has written for major newspapers around the world.

He studied at the New Era School and later Sydenham College at the University of Bombay. In 1985 he obtained his Masters in Business Administration from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College in the United States. His books include Offence: The Hindu Case (Seagull, 2009), The Colonel Who Would Not Repent: The Bangladesh War and its Unquiet Legacy (Aleph Book Company, 2014, and Yale University Press, 2016), and Detours: Songs of the Open Road (Westland, 2015). He is working on a book about Gujaratis. He has written several papers in academic journals and contributed chapters in books about business and human rights.

Initially, we approached him for a Lounge Chair interview where we ask ten questions. But this interview took on a life of its own and became a longer piece. So, we decided to run it as a Kitaab interview. Here it is:

Why do you write?

I write because I like telling stories. If you ask the girls and boys who went to school with me of their oldest memories of me, they will probably tell you how I would tell stories to the class during times when a teacher was absent, when coursework was complete and there was spare–free–time, or on days when it rained outside and we weren’t able to go to the grounds to play. There was one particular story which I began in my fifth grade and completed it sometime at the end of the seventh grade. No I don’t remember much of it, except that it dealt with an androgynous James Bond who sometimes fooled villains by calling himself “Maria Rosenberg”. Alas, I don’t remember much else!

But more seriously, I want to make sense of the world around us, and write about it clearly and simply, to understand the story, and to tell the story to others. If in the process it changes people’s minds, that would be great.

by Zafar Anjum
Shashi warriorLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

It runs in the family. Four uncles were writers and poets, and my father translated a few books from Malayalam to English. I started late, at the age of 35, and wished I’d got to it earlier.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I’m currently working on Swami, a novel about an alcoholic but committed journalist investigating the possible misdeeds of a godman based in southern India. The investigation leads him in unexpected directions, and changes his life.

My last published book is The Girl Who Didn’t Give Up, which was released earlier this year by Westland, and is about paedophile rings in Goa and the influence they have.

Ernest-Hemingway-007Hemingway often derided fellow authors who wrote about what they had read, rather than what they had experienced. To him, such abstract writing was ornamental and stolid. Firsthand experience, firsthand understanding should provide the uncut marble for the writer’s chisel, he said.

For example, Hemingway thought Edgar Allan Poe drew his material from fancy—invented from rhetoric and literariness, rather than reality and truth. He characterized Poe’s writing as “skillful, marvelously constructed” but ultimately “dead”.