2 I no longer use agents, or introduce young writers to agents. I have had a very good experience with my agents in USA and India, and a less pleasant experience in UK, which I personally attribute to the patronage relationship that England (London, mostly) still has to Indian writing in English. However, from 2019 onwards, I decided not to go through agents, despite the good experiences. There were two reasons for it. First, I wanted to go back to writing as I had started in my small town, Gaya: reading, writing, reading again, rewriting, reading a bit more, and trying to place my own writing. In 1990, I stuck it lucky when my collection, My World (1991), essentially the poems of a young man struggling to find his register, was selected and published by Rupa and Co, Delhi, as part of a national competition. But the struggle, without agents, without literary patrons, without even literary friends, continued for years after that, after I moved to Delhi to work as a journalist, and then to Copenhagen to live with my Danish girlfriend (later, wife; even later, ex-wife) and do a PhD, while sustaining myself, for the first two years, doing odd jobs like washing dishes and sweeping floors. So, I know what I am talking about: this is a tiring, often disappointing, process, but it is the real thing. The package that even mediocre literary success turns you into is a cocoon, finally, which seldom hatches into a butterfly. I have no wish to be packaged. Second, no matter how lovely an agent or an editor is as a human being – and the ones I have known have all been lovely individuals – there is an unfortunate collaboration of agents, editors, publishers, marketing executives, society types and writers, which, I strongly believe, is detrimental to literature. It is not just the commercial aspect that worries me. The rot goes deeper, turning literature into what capital turns everything into: a secondary source for the supreme primacy of capital as the arbiter of ‘real’ value. No matter how virtuous or radical a writer or an agent might be, this set-up is essentially the same as that of global capitalism, where the top one percent rules. As I enter my last years, I have no desire to continue to be part of this set-up.
3 I like going to occasional literature festivals and conferences, but I find them, as institutions, to be essentially a distraction. Hence, I do only two or three every year – and maybe another two or three in the year when I have a new book out. This means that I have to turn down a few requests. I apologize for this: it is an indication of the fact that I have only limited time at my disposal and not at all that of personal preferences. Essentially, I accept the earliest invitations that come my way, and turn down all subsequent ones for that particular year.
4 I prefer reading writers to meeting them. This applies to all writers: famous or unknown, old or young. I also think you ought to prefer reading me to meeting me.
5 Much as an interview flatters the inky soul of an author, I feel I have done enough interviews, and prefer to avoid new ones, especially if the approach is too general. For instance, I do not want to explain what one of my books might be about: if I could have done so in a few lines, I would not have slogged for years to write an entire book. As such, again, I prefer interviews where the interviewer has a clearer idea of what s/he wants to cover, and specific bones to pick.
Finally, I fear that with the years I have become convinced that the literary world is no different from the wider world – the world of neo-liberal capitalism – that so many major and significant writers bravely protest against. Their protests are necessary and genuine. But they are finally useless, not because all such protests are useless, but because they do not apply the same principles to the literary world. I have always felt that your protests work in larger spheres only if its principles are applied to your own specific sphere of activity. If you are a major academic, you need to look at what is happening in universities, and act accordingly, to the best of your ability. If you are a major writer, you need to look at what is happening in the literary world, and act accordingly. There is no point protesting against the one-percent culture of global or national capitalism when, in your own sphere, you gain from or effectively enable a nexus and a structure that is exactly the same as that of one-percent culture. It is time to opt out (not entirely, which is not possible, but substantially enough to put a scratch in the metal), even if that means that one will have less visibility than before.
My apologies are to those who do not agree with me on such matters. I am sorry, but that is what I have chosen to do: try to write with writers and readers, maybe even with critics, but not play ball with powerful magazine and paper editors, agents, TV and radio hosts, marketing experts, publishers, ad people, society types, more society types, yes, even some top academics, who, with very few exceptions, share that one-percent nexus which is the bane of our globe.
1st December 2021