An Evening with Vikram Chandra

author: Vikram Chandra
published: Oct. 22, 2012,   recorded: November 2007,   views: 2237
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In the tradition of his favorite childhood writers, Dickens, Thackeray and the “curiously forgotten James Hadley Chase,” Vikram Chandra explores the seamier sides of human relations. In Chandra’s latest, sprawling novel, Sacred Games, his backdrop is Bombay, a city steeped in corruption from head to toe. Reading three short sections, the author introduces us to some key characters, including Sartaj Singh, a detective from Chandra’s last book, Love and Longing in Bombay, who navigates the underworld and politics; and Ganesh Gaitonde, a ruthless gangster who slashes and bribes his way to the top of a crime kingdom.

This book began as a little thriller, Chandra explains, but during his research with policemen and gang members, he realized that “local crime has links to things apparently far removed.” Between local politics and criminals Chandra perceived “a constant exchange of power and value.” But, he says, “If you’re going to talk about politics in today’s India, you cannot not talk about religion.” And, he continues, “all of this exists within what’s been called the great game, the struggle for power between nation states in the sub-continent.”

Chandra acknowledges his debt to traditional thrillers and noir, but says that his aim is to twist tradition and make things real. That was one reason he chose the first person for his portrait of the gangster Gaitonde. Chandra seeks opportunities for “specificity and particularity” to advance his characters beyond cutouts and formula.

The book has received tremendous attention in India, and compelled many people to reveal unsavory personal encounters with corrupt politicians. Chandra notes dryly, “I’ve become the go-to guy for stories of badness. I’m kind of sick of this. I don’t want to be in this violent, dirty world for the next eight years.”

Chandra, while acknowledging the cinematic quality of his writing (not surprising given that his mother and other family members are in the Bollywood biz), says he much prefers sitting alone in a room for eight years cooking up a book, to the collaboration cauldron of movie-making. Sacred Games has been optioned, and says Chandra, “I think they’re insane. I said, ‘Save me two seats at the premiere. See you in three years.’”

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