Vasudev Murthy: (laughs) That's a loaded question. I am not sure. Am a writer because I am published? Am I a writer because people say am a writer? I don't know. But I always had a passion for writing. Though I have never been a self-certified writer. I got published ten years ago. Since then I have been perceived as a writer. So, the superficial answer is ? yes I am a writer.
Being a writer, sometimes you write, sometimes you don't. You change with time. So answering that question is quite complex.
(S): What do you feel about writers' block? What are your inspirations for writing?
Vasudev Murthy: Writer's block is a convincing excuse. I am also guilty of it. We write nevertheless, irrespective of a block or not. As in, we write emails, send sms. So, it's an excuse ? the block. And it is a convincing one. I convince myself (laughs). Sometimes you can't write because there is personal crisis, you suffer and all that. But most of the time, it is procrastination, laziness. Discipline is important for writing.
Music and travel inspire me to write. In fact, music is a perennial source of inspiration. Every raag has a story. Also, I have travelled to strange places and had bizarre experiences. All these feed me to experiment with writing. And i have experimented. Sherlock Holmes in Japan, for instance, was written as it would have been written as a Japanese. Travel and music inspire you to impersonate and become one that you want to portray. For me, it works like that.
(S): You raised a very interesting point with the talk on impersonation. Eliot speaks about impersonality of an artist to be able to write better. Could you expand a bit more about what you said?
Vasudev Murthy: There was a throbbing period of deep sadness in America in the 40s and 70s. African American men and women suffered from all kinds of atrocities. Now, for a person to write, one will have to be sensitive. In fact the writer has to have that radar to be constantly living in the moment he/she is in. You pick up from emotions, events, happenings, words ? almost everything that triggers your sensitive responses. And you create after you have had an intense feeling and connect with those happenings.
(S): Your book, "Sherlock Holmes in Japan" is written as if a Japanese narrator is writing it. "What The Ragas Told Me" tells a story from a music lover who cherishes a beautiful composition. But consider this. If you perceive yourself as an Indian and want to tell the story as an Indian, would you still justify "Sherlock??" or would you do justice to "What The ragas Told Me" ten years from now where you might hear a different story when you hear that particular music. Perhaps, what am trying to ask is, does any piece of writing does justice to itself?
Vasudev Murthy: I agree to what you just said. Every writer lives with a regret. He regrets his writing at some point in time after making it public, that he could have done it better ? rather different.
But that's the whole point. Writing, like wine, gets better with time. The more the wine ferments, the better its quality. And as I said, writers change with change in writing. That is why I believe that one must learn from life first and then begin to write. There is a certain beauty in what Kumar Gandharva said about music. He said that for the first 50 years of your life. Just learn and then compose later.
(S): You have written three fiction books till now -, Sherlock Holmes in Japan, The Time Merchants and other strange tales and have experimented with both- short stories and novel writing. How different are the two genres and how do they fulfill the writer?
Vasudev Murthy: We write short stories to document an experience. We see something, feel something, connect with something and we have the urge to get it out. Crystallization of a momentous grief creates a short story or poetry. Short stories are quick relief and release to these feelings. Same goes for poetry. A person has to feel that searing pain to write a story or poetry.
A novel or book is a different kind of a project. It goes through rigors of publishing and editing. So, there is a sense of balance, discipline, planning and integrity involved. I envy people who keep working on a story for days. I can't do that. Novels and books take time in revealing themselves. Books make a larger point, short stories gives you an expression to your instant feelings instantly.
It's a question of how I feel that decides my choice of a genre.
(S): You like classical music, enjoy it and wrote "What the Ragas told me". What do you think connects music and the written word? Do you feel one form as stronger than the other?
Vasudev Murthy: I think each one of them- each of these forms - is unique. Very different. And therefore you cannot compare the two. Nikhil Banerjee's music appear to be telling a tale. And the same goes for Kumar Gandharva. Now my writings try to verbalise those tales I hear. People might differ in their interpretation of that music and how they feel about it, but that's how I connect to it.
Writing that way covers a vast set of subjects. Music, on the other hand, touches out nerves that writing will very easily miss out on. Music is much deeper, much felt. Writing is much expressed, much released.
(S): Off late, there has been a plethora of Indian writers writing in English. English as a language is becoming one of the primary modes of literary expression. How do you see language and literature defining themselves today in India?
Vasudev Murthy: One of the fabulous thing that has happened to and with the English educated Indian today is exposure. It is exposure of all kinds. And as a consequence of which, there has been an interesting mixing of the vernacular and the English. It has made our language richer and all kinds of literature are coming to the fore. However, I feel that fundamentals of grammar should be intact. Pepper language with local color but do not take the liberty to tamper language. For example in "What The Ragas Told Me", I had to use Hindi. I realized that translations do not give the same effect. So I had to write some words in hindi to uphold the purpose of what I wanted to convey.
However, there are all kinds of problems with literature today that does not stop only with writing. There is the world of publishing with completely different demands of its own. And publishing is more business than altruism. Most of the times, there is improper editing. Basic rules of grammar are compromised. In the linguistically impatient world of sms language, we end up using loosely colloquial language just for convenience. My belief is in knowing the language well before one embarks to take liberties with it.
For instance, in raag malkauns, pancham note is not used. But Kumar Gandharv is such a master! He used the pancham and nobody objected to it. Therefore, learn the nuances of language and grammar. It will help you transcend some of the barriers on its own.
(S): The thin line which separates or rather separated a 'classic' piece of writing from the best-selling one is fast blurring today. What do you think may be the reason?
Vasudev Murthy: The influx of literature from all quarters and in all types has opened up choices for readers today. If not serious and heavy stuff, youngsters are reading or even listening to something or the other in this fast paced life where reading as a habit was being questioned. This may not be music or literature, but definitely there is something called a mass appeal and it connects people. This aspect must not be ignored. We must aspire to be realistic without losing a sense of firmness.
I think there is this impatience to get published in the literary world today. In order to achieve short term success, one compromises in being a serious and intellectual writer. This may be fine in its own right but as one becomes old, one realizes that one should not have been too hasty. Facing the trauma of rejection, rewriting and reworking on the already written words are essential to mature a piece of writing and the writer. I think we are cutting down on the essence of the process. Technology makes us publish ourselves through e-publishing. We do online marketing of books and then there are all sorts of business angles involved with writing.
However, all said and done, classic piece of literature by Shakespeare, Coleridge, Bronte, Eliot are going to remain good literature. As long as desire to write nicely persists, the definition of good quality literature will not fade away.
(S): Do you feel the role of academia in this whole process?
Vasudev Murthy: Academia has a very important role to play. Let us look at the general scene in literature studies in India today. Number of students coming to learn literature has decreased. The intention is more often to earn a degree than pursue literature as passion. Amidst all this madness, the onus to make a book alive for students lies on the professor.
Having said that, to expect good literature to be a mass movement is expecting too much. High literature will continue to be high because intelligent people and intellectuals who cherish quality will always like it. And new experiments in social media and at other places will continue to proliferate with human imagination reaching its technological marvel. The challenge is to remain realistic, as I said, without losing a sense or firmness.
(S): What do you plan to write next?
Vasudev Murthy: I am writing a satire and a light hearted book on management.