This is the darkest book you have written where you predict the end of India?
I am merely sounding a note of warning. I have been writing on this subject (communalism) for many years, but people tended to ignore my warning. So I was induced to put whatever I'd said together--that we had gone so far that it will be difficult for us to retrace our steps. We forget about the way the minorities have been treated, how reports by various commissions have been ignored. We let them get away with it.
Don't you think you should have written a fresh book considering the gravity of the problem?
Yes, but that would have meant a lot of research, going back to the archives, accessing the reports of various commissions. Besides, a larger book would have fewer readers and therefore less impact.
Do you think your book will have some impact?
At least on the educated--it may have some effect on the small minority who reads books, especially the fact that there are increasing intrusions on people's private lives.
Who is your reader?
Basically, boys and girls coming out of college. I want them to get angry.
Do you deliberately dumb down your writing to reach your readers?
No, it's my natural style, a basic urge to communicate. Complicated language fails to communicate. People read me because i write simple prose.
What's the difference between simple-minded and simple?
Simple is being weak in the head. I call myself simple-minded because I have no patience with complicated words--I get bamboozled by words like politico-socio-economics. Words like spiritual/soul/cosmic power mean nothing to me. I shy off them.
You have written over 100 books, many of them, critics say, unworthy of you. Are your publishers exploiting you?
If they are, I'm glad. For this book, all I did was a long introduction. It was my publishers who went through many volumes of The Illustrated Weekly to pull out the relevant articles. If my publishers exploit me, they also give me money. The book has already made it to the bestseller lists in the South.
You seem to thrive on bad reviews.
I criticise people, so it's only fair to take criticism. I feel no anger or bitterness if a reviewer trashes me as long as he has no personal axe to grind. But I dismiss out of hand what people like Pritish Nandy, Natwar Singh and Kamath write about me because I know they are settling personal scores.
Do you feel you have come to the end of your writing life?
Not yet, but I'm approaching it. There will soon come a time when I feel I have said all there was to say in me.
But you still write two columns a week?
It's a battle. I often go blank, scramble for past articles. I am running out of themes. I am not satisfied doing what my rival columnists do--presenting current news in their own language, giving their views on it, whether they agree or don't agree. There's no new information in their columns, and their interests are very restricted. My rivals in the profession don't read books--only magazines and newspapers. I like to put in information on other subjects such as nature, religious matters, historical events, ancient literature, present-day literature whereas they just pick up gossip at parties, talk to each other, go home and hammer out an article. That's not worth doing--that's why no publisher finds it worth his while to publish their columns whereas I have over a dozen books already which are compilations of my columns.
Don't you think such indiscriminate publishing of everything you write hurts your image as a writer of repute?
Never occurred to me. I write columns, they get published as books. Perhaps it's because the topics I touch are more varied. Humour, for instance. Everyplace I visit, I go to great lengths to collect examples of local humour. I take the trouble to visit sleazy spots, prisons, even attend murder trials in language I can't understand. I spent a whole morning in Berlin, for instance, in a prison interviewing people convicted for homicide. There was an Indian lodged there for murdering his mistress. He was later deported back to India.
Are you not sometimes tempted to show off your learning?
I am a show off. I have a very good memory and have a repertoire of quotations from poetry from different languages which passes off as learning.
Don't you think journalism and literature are two different things that don't mix?
Not at all. They are allied professions. Both are about communicating. Fiction is journalism plus fantasy, and travelogue is journalism plus fiction.
How do you rate yourself as a writer?
I'm a hack. I don't hold myself in any esteem. Someone once accused me of making bullshit into an art form. I told him: You try it. It isn't so easy.
Inform, amuse, provoke.
(Excerpts from this interview appeared in the print magazine)