Aatish Taseer talks to Anjali Puri about his new novel:
The petulant writer in your new book, with his party talk about civilisational Hindu values and Muslim invasions, seems to have a real-life model. Who?
A lot of these characters are a fusion, so it’s hard to speak of models.
Naipaul is a name that comes to mind...
I know him and I have a personal relationship with him but all Vijaipal’s opinions would by no means be Naipaul’s.
And the feisty CM of a state bordering Delhi, with a penchant for chiffons?
I thought of women CMs, powerful figures, royals in politics, like Rajmata Jaipur, and Vasundhararaje. But nothing of the actual action in my book has any real basis, and once a character enters a fictional setting they behave and adapt to that.
You’re not worried that a formidable Ms Singh with a diminutive Sikh husband will be after you?
(Laughs) For that character, you could point to four or five left-wing, political women. I wouldn’t compare that person to Mala Singh at all, if that’s who you mean. My character is someone with far more naive politics, a bit of a crusader, more Arundhati Roy than Mala.
Your first book, a memoir, focused on a search for identity. Your first novel explores that terrain too, in a very different way.
That’s true. The dinner party scene brings out all the tensions that run through the book in a most explicit way: an old Sanskritic civilisation overlaid by an Islamic past that hasn’t been dealt with, and over all of this, a very hurried modernity.
There is a comic-hallucinogenic quality to some of the scenes. That’s how the changing India struck you?
It really does have that quality, and there is a lot of humour in that, but also confusion, and even panic.
The new India in your book seems an ugly, sinister place, the old rich are effete, the upwardly mobile rapacious.
I’m sure you’re not accusing me of having made that up! But let me add, there is a very fierce patriotism running through the book. I am not rubbishing the change at all; it’s just that it’s precarious and must constantly be thought about.