VIKRAM KAPUR | AUTHOR INTERVIEW

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Interview by bookGeeks:

A PhD in creative and critical writing from the University of East Anglia in the UK, Vikram Kapur has taught journalism and creative writing in the US and the UK. He has published two novels and several short stories. For his writing, he has received a Vermont Studio Center Fellowship, a Wesleyan scholarship and a Squaw Valley Community of Writers scholarship. His recently published novel, The Assassinations: A Novel of 1984, is a reminder about the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and an eye-opener to the turbulence of those times.

bookGeeks:Tell us more about your previous books Time is a Fire and The Wages of Life. How is The Assassinations different from them?
Vikram:Time is a Fire is a diasporic mystery centred on a young Sikh woman who leaves India after her parents are murdered during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. The Wages of Life is a murder mystery set against the backdrop of the Hindu nationalist movement. The Assassinations, on the other hand, is the story of two families-one Hindu and the other Sikh-and how their lives are distorted by the events of 1984. Its central theme is how politics can affect relations between communities that have no history of conflict and hatred. That is mirrored in how the relations between the two families go for a toss because of what happens at the time.
bookGeeks:What has been the inspiration behind The Assassinations?
Vikram:I thought my anthology 1984, In Memory and Imagination would be my last statement on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. But as I was putting it together, the idea came about writing a novel that investigates how such events affect ordinary lives. There has been a lot of writing about the politics surrounding1984, the gruesome nature of the riots, and the fact the victims have not received justice to this day, but relatively little on how those events affected ordinary people who had nothing to do with the riots or the politics underpinning them. Moreover, that is a theme that does not apply to Delhi in 1984 alone, but to independent India at various points in its history. And it remains depressingly topical to this day.
bookGeeks:Tell us a bit about your anthology 1984, In Memory and Imagination.
Vikram:1984, In Memory and Imagination is a collection of essays and short fiction that is focused on the events of 1984.
bookGeeks:How important do you feel it is for the youth today to read authentic and unbiased Partition literature in order to inculcate a proper sense of history? Are there any particular books or authors that you’d like to recommend?
Vikram:Even in The Assassinations, which is a 1984 novel, the shadow of Partition hangs over the generation of the parents. Partition is the most important historical event that occurred in South Asia in the twentieth century. Its consequences are with us to this day. For instance, the definition of the Muslim as the other in India and the Hindu as the other in Pakistan can be traced back to Partition. Our relations with Pakistan and, to some extent, Bangladesh which used to be a part of Pakistan are coloured by memories of Partition. Hence it is something that every Indian needs to learn about since it explains a lot about why we are the way we are. In terms of books, Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines is a favourite Partition novel of mine.
bookGeeks:Why do you feel such a close connection to the Anti Sikh riots?
Vikram:It is a question I have often put to myself since I am not even a Sikh. Looking back I think it is because those riots were like a rite of passage for me. I was then in my teens. My father was an army officer and I come from a very patriotic family. I had grown up believing in a secular India. Those riots, however, showed how flimsy the secular façade that has been given to our country really is. How easily it can fall apart to give way to communal hatred and violence. Here we are talking about two communities that had no history of enmity. Yet it didn’t take too much to sow the seeds of conflict between them. You remember the time when you lose your innocence. I think that was the moment for me. Since then, I have not been surprised in the least when any part of India has chosen to go berserk in the name of caste or religion.
bookGeeks:Cases of racial profiling and sporadic racist attacks often make it to the news. Do you think that it is becoming more and more difficult to be visibly religious in a post 9/11 world?
Vikram:It is more difficult to be visibly religious if you come from a minority community that has been scapegoated. For instance, in America if you were a Muslim woman with a hijab or a Muslim man with a beard you could get a lot of unwelcome attention. Possibly the same in India. That does not apply to the dominant majority community, though, since aggressive majoritarianism is the mantra of the day.
bookGeeks:What is the most important message that you want readers to take from this book?
Vikram:I am often accused by people of trying to re-ignite passions or make people relive painful memories by writing about 1984. My response to that is that a culture that does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it. The Jewish holocaust of the 1940s will never be repeated because the world has not been allowed to forget it. And the whole endeavour has been so successful that even the young, educated Indian of today knows more about what happened in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Krakow than what happened in Delhi in 1984.
My hope would be that by re-living a painful passage of our recent history through books like The Assassinations, which show what can happen when tolerance and communal amity go for a toss, people, especially young people, will realise how important the ideas of tolerance and communal amity are to maintain a heterogeneous society like ours.
bookGeeks:How do you go about the writing process? Do you make it a point to write something every day?
Vikram:Not really. There are days where I don’t write a word. If you are working on a long project like a novel, however, you need to write regularly since it is very hard to get into the flow of it if you leave it for some time. So when I am working on a novel, I try to get in 2000-2500 words in a week. The short stuff is easier to return to after taking a break. I know people whose entire reason for living is writing. I don’t think that is the way to go. You should make writing a part of your life NOT your life. There is much more to life than being cooped up in a room in front of a word processor.
bookGeeks:Will readers get to see a sequel to the Assassinations? Enlighten us about your upcoming projects.
Vikram:There is no sequel planned at the moment. First, I hope a lot of readers will appreciate The Assassinations. In terms of future projects, there is nothing concrete at the moment. I am thinking of a few things but I am nowhere close to deciding what I will take up.

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