Frontlist | Neil Gaiman on His Love for Indian Literature
Neil Gaiman may not have been able to visit India yet, but he has a healthy appetite for Indian literature. In a recent telephonic interview with News18.com, the author revealed that among his favourite authors are, Salman Rushdie, and Arundhati Roy.
“I think Salman Rushdie is one of the greatest writers of our age; he is a giant of literature. I love the writings of Arundhati Roy too. So many writings for me go back to the first time I picked up the Richard Burton’s translation of Vikram and The Vampire,” confessed Gaiman, who had discovered Indian literature through the ancient epic, Ramayana.
Gaiman said that he finds ‘so much life’ in Indian fiction, and loves the way Indian English writers deploy words. “My heart always follows people who get the most out of their dictionaries and vocabularies; writers who take joy in the language. I tend to be more Hemingwayesque in my writings because I learned to write at a time when the economy of writing was incredibly important. What I love most about Indian writing is that I never get the feeling that anybody is trying to economise on words. Instead, they used beautiful words like spices and colours,” he added.
In 2020, Gaiman finally participated in Indian Literature festivals and had online sessions in both Jaipur and Tata literature festivals. However, the author’s India visit is still due.
“I want to visit India so much. It is one place I’ve always dreamed of going. I very much hope that when all of this madness is over, I will go to India, and spend time meeting my fans as well as my friends. I have so many friends who are professors, artists, writers and actors in India,” said the author.
Gaiman had, in fact, scheduled a trip to India in 2019, during which he was supposed to participate in the Jaipur Literature Festival. However, the trip was cancelled as the dates clashed with the shooting of Good Omens. Gaiman is the executive producer and creator of the show.
Good Omens premiered on Amazon Prime in May last year as a miniseries based on a novel written by Gaiman along with author Terry Pratchett. It traces the lives of demon Crowley (David Tennant) and angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) who join forces to thwart Armageddon (the final battle of power between heaven and hell) to protect Earth, and their comfortable lives in it.
When Gaiman and Pratchett wrote Good Omens in 1990, the Russians were already in glasnost, and the Berlin wall was coming down, and ‘everything seemed to be sorting itself out in the world’. But thirty years down the lines, the themes this novel explore – pollution, climate change, famines and wars – are contemporary issues that governments across the world are grappling with.
Gaiman, however, confessed that he feels ‘extremely sad’ that his imagination of a world where such issues would become a deciding factor for the future of the human race has proved to be prophetic.
“When we were filming Good Omens, and people were saying that ‘well, you guys were so prescient about all these contemporary issues,’ I thought that I would be perfectly happy for it to feel less prescient. It would be great if people said that all the stuff about climate change, war and pollution that we had put in the book is something they don’t have to deal with now, but unfortunately, it is not so,” said the author.
Gaiman’s imagination is not limited to predicting a world combating climate change. In the late 80s, much before he became an internationally acclaimed author, Gaiman quit journalism because he wasn’t interested in peddling false reports as facts. He decided that if he has to make up facts, he would instead do it in the form of fictional stories. It was much before the term ‘fake news’ was coined. But, Gaiman perhaps could have imagined the world we find ourselves now, with no way to determine ‘objective truth’ from media reports.
“The tragedy of the news is that all news is fictional in the same way all biographies are fictional. They are fictional because people are choosing facts, putting them in order, and painting a picture that they want to paint, and it is tough to find objective truth in anything,” lamented the author.
With the advent of social media, the mediascape has become more mired in the game of perspectives. Gaiman, however, has chosen not to withdraw from it, for the sake of maintaining a clear channel of communication with his fans and for staying accessible to them.
The author’s fans are very vocal and passionate about his works, especially the ones that have been adapted onscreen. Recently, many were worried that Netflix would not be able to do justice to Gaiman’s The Sandman series, but the author stepped in to assuage their fears and scepticism.
The Sandman adaptation is something that Gaiman himself has been putting off for quite some time. The author said: “The biggest problem in the past for making The Sandman movie was that The Sandman is 3,000 pages long. It is the length of Game of Thrones and most people were worried about how to make that into a movie. I saw several bad movie scripts over the years and a couple of perfectly decent proposal to make Sandman for TV. However, at the time, TV had never done a series with the kind of budget that’s being done now.”
The author pointed out that the most significant difference between making The Sandman series back then and now is that he now has the experience of making Good Omens. He said that after seeing Good Omens people know that he can not only write but also run the show for a 70 million dollar international production. Therefore, everybody believes in his capacity to adapt The Sandman for the screen. While there were many takers for the show, Gaiman said the biggest reason they picked Netflix is that they were enthusiastic and committed. “They gave us the kind of control, power and budget that was needed to make The Sandman properly,” he added.