Witty and well-read Sriram Karri is out with his next novel: the powerful and intriguing Autobiography
of a Mad Nation, a story of patriotic friends in a nation that is descending into madness. Neeti Vijaykumar
catches up with him in an exclusive print and online interview
Where did you get the idea to write Autobiography of a Mad Nation?
It was a random statement made by me one day at a public discussion – I was born in a mentally retarded country. I felt it deserved more; that it had weight to start a book. But to create a theme strong enough to create a novel worthy of intelligent readers, I had to bring in another statement – if I had to choose between betraying my friend or my nation, God, give me strength to betray my country. This gave me the theme. The plot had to do two things – more than a plot alone, I had to create a literary device – wherein, the book would on one hand had to be a racy murder mystery and political serial deaths and an investigation. On the other strand, like a DNA helix, was an intellectual series of essays, a reflection on India’s history between Emergency to Godhra. All along, it was necessary not to weaken the plot or flow of story by the temptation to analyze history or politics. I borrowed heavily from several classics to create the structure – Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged – and the story of friends, but keep them hidden till later; and start the story from another set of protagonists, before unveiling the heroes. It was fun because it was so complex, and when successfully completed, the simplicity is beautiful to read. Sorry, I cannot say good things about my own book, right?
You make many references to Rushdie and Orwell. Are they your favourite authors? Who else do you enjoy reading and take inspiration from?
The book has references to many writers – Dostoevsky, Oscar Wilde, Rushdie, Camus, Kafka, Salinger, Alexander Dumas – a very long list and I loved their writings. I read a lot, but my inspiration is largely the Romantic School of Literature, especially Ayn Rand.
How did your career span as a journalist and corporate brander assist you in writing?
It kept me going, paid the bills, allowed me to read and dream on. It kept me angry and frustrated enough to want to go back to writing after a tough day or week of work. It taught me details of planning and discipline to focus on deadline and try and keep them as much as possible. It showed me that success was possible after a long struggle. But otherwise, these were independent identities and lives at large. Felt like superman in that sense – day job of a journalist or tech brander – post work, the secret mask as a novelist.
Are you articulating your reaction to the nation and its people’s actions through your writing? Or is it just fiction?
Just fiction. My views as a journalist and my opinions are too unimportant to the story I have weaved and told. However much I would like to say a lot to my countrymen – it won’t be more important than what I can tell them as a storyteller. My stories are more important than my views.
Do you brand India as a hopeful nation or a mad nation?
I see no contradiction. In that sense, I like the spirit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement in Seoul – people used to be ashamed of being born in India, now they are proud to represent it. I am not supporting him, merely the nature of his statement – a transition, a pride born of seeming shame, not to be taken literally. In that sense, maybe he was quoting my spirit of saying – I was born in a mentally retarded country.
The madness has hope, the hope has madness – we contain contradictions – we are the multitude. It was fun and frustrating to be born and to grow up in a mad nation. When the nation came at you – like during the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots, or Godhra, antiMandal agitations or Mandir-Masjid riots – you wonder why
it is so easy for civilization to go on a vacation in India. But otherwise, it was fun.
What message are you trying to convey through your book and your writing in general?
Read better, demand better as consumers of art and don’t compromise for the drivel of Bollywood, or its equivalent in writing – your soul needs some food. Find it in great writers like Victor Hugo, or Dostoevsky, O’ Henry and don’t settle for less. Great stories are more important for your personal sanity and being human than anything else. Listen to great music, see great paintings, observe great sculptures – to me the fall in standards of art and aesthetics in India – is far more damaging to the country and its people than the fall in ethics. My problem is not you tolerate bad politicians as much as the way you tolerate bad writers, and movie makers.
What would you like to tell our young readers about creating literature?
Unlike anywhere else or any other aspects, don’t compromise. Demand the best and seek nothing less – it is amazing how easily this will permeate to every aspect of life.
To read the rest of his interview and a review of the book, log on to www.youthincmag.com right away
Volume 4 Issue 12