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‘Be less reverential about idea of art’: 'The Scent of God' author's advice to his younger self

I think success is the wrong word to use with literature. This is not investment banking or even science, where there are objective criteria, says author Saikat Majumdar.

Published: 23rd August 2020 09:10 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd August 2020 02:10 PM   |  A+A-

Author Saikat Majumdar

Author Saikat Majumdar

Saikat Majumdar’s novels include 'The Firebird' (2015) and 'The Scent of God'.

What is your writing schedule?

I start early in the morning when the house is quiet. I write uninterrupted till my first flask of tea is over, for about a couple of hours.

Then breakfast/break, and again writing, though now with more noise and interruption as the pandemic has locked everyone home.

After having kids, one learns to steal snatches of writing throughout the day, and shape sentences in between kicking a ball around with a little boy.

Does writing energise or exhaust you?

A serious stretch of writing feels a lot like a couple of intense hours at the gym—exhausted and energised at the same time, pleasantly aching! I place my laptop high up, stand and type, pace between sentences. So if I have written for six hours, I have paced for six hours too!

Writing advice you’d like to give your younger self ?

Be less reverential about the idea of art. There is something accidental and idiosyncratic about art, something playful, even deceptive.

You are damned to a bourgeois life, so loosen up and smell the earth a bit, lose control, mess around, at least a little. Don’t make literature a vehicle of your ambition. It happens too easily if you are writing in English in India. Here, English is the language of success and power, but literature is as much about failure, depression, even suicide, as it is about becoming successful or famous. Lead life, art will follow. Don’t try to catch art, it’s your own shifting shadow.

Literary success vs number of copies sold?

I think success is the wrong word to use with literature. This is not investment banking or even science, where there are objective criteria.

What matters is something far less quantifiable, but no less real when it happens – when a book touches another human being, enters their lives and language even in a small way.

What is more important to a poet than a stranger humming their lines in a moment of sadness, or great joy?

When someone tells you that they are taking your book with you as their preferred companion on a long train journey?

Of course, there is something when a crowd of people do it, but a book’s impact is not just felt in one or two years, but if it’s lucky, over decades.

Didn’t Rabindranath ask that anxious question: “Who are you, my dear, reading my work a hundred years from today?”

I write novels, which is a popular form, at least in spirit, even though they lost out to digital forces in terms of actual popularity – so yes, touching the lives of strangers, giving them pleasure, and in the end, if I am very, very fortunate, to shift their relationship with life even a little. That is the best one can hope for as a writer.

Favourite spot/s in Delhi you write at?

I am a homebody and write mostly at home. I need to be in the pyjamas or shorts in which I love to live but wouldn’t be seen dead wearing, unshaven, everything a mess. My fantasy is to write in a jazz bar, slightly drunk, alone in a crowd.



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