The middle-aged Indian goes on a 'moral' quest
Amitabha Bagchi's second novel, The Householder, raises questions about what it means to lead a 'moral' life in a society that is increasingly corrupt. The author talks about his latest book and also tells us why he's not buying into the Anna Hazare-brand of activism
It’s been over six years since Amitabha Bagchi’s debut novel, Above Average, a story about a middle-class boy, who must balance his parent’s ambitions to secure a financially stable future for their son, with his own yearning to be the drummer of a rock band was released. Bagchi, who lives in Delhi, tells us about his latest work, The Householder, which he found time to write between new-daddy duty and working as an Assistant Professor in IIT, Delhi. Excerpts from the interview:
In your debut novel, Above Average, the protagonist, Arindam Chatterjee is a middle-class boy from Delhi, who must walk the fine line between competition and camaraderie in his quest for identity. Would you agree that Naresh Kumar from The Householder, is also on an identity quest?Anna Hazare-brand
In the broader definition of the word ‘identity’ that would be a correct assumption. Above Average is a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story. We first meet Arindam when he is fifteen years old. In the course of the novel, he learns things that he had previously not known; he meets people from different backgrounds, with aspirations that are different from his own and makes new friends. He is trying to figure out his place in the world, relative to the things outside of himself — in terms of class, success, how his own assumptions are his own. Naresh, on the other hand, is well into his 40s, has figured the world out and knows his place in it. As the story progresses, we find these notions being broken down. The difference is that Arindam is building something new, whereas Naresh is finding that something that he has built and what he assumed to be a firm foundation is falling apart.
Did you find that writing The Householder was easier in some ways?
Between Above Average and The Householder, I wrote another book (not yet published). I found it easier to write the Householder, as the theme was well- developed in my mind. The time from conceiving the idea to writing the first draft took me 11 months. At the end of month four, my son was born, and so I was staying up nights, changing diapers — so, whatever time I got, when I was not sleeping or tired, I would write. I was not happy with the structure of Above Average, while characterisation came easily; I struggled with issues of structure. Between the two books, I worked with a group of TV scriptwriters where I learnt a lot about how to create a coherent narrative line. I also discuss craft issues with my wife (Ratika Kapur), who is a writer. While The Householder is still a character-driven book, it has a stronger plot line.
What is the question that you set out to answer while writing The Householder?
My larger project is a study of masculinity: What are men like? What are the pressures of being a man? What does it mean to be a man in a gendered world? In The Householder, the basic question is: What are the possibilities of a moral life in a deeply corrupt society? And moving that forward, what does that mean to an individual? I am not interested in the jet-setting Radias or the politicians in their helicopters; what is more interesting to me is the sidekick’s position. The Anna Hazare movement adopts the position of ‘pointing away’ from the self — the people out there are corrupt, not me. But someone who pays Rs 50 to a cop to get a certificate does not think of himself as corrupt. Do you say you are ‘corrupt’, or ‘pragmatic’? I don’t know. The book set off many of the questions that I was thinking of at the time.