Crossword award winner Neel Mukherjee reveals more about his first book that shared the top honour with Amitav Ghoshs Sea of Poppies
Like you,the central character Ritwik Ghosh in Past Continuous is from Kolkata and has studied in Oxford. Is your first novel autobiographical?
To some extent,yes,of course. But you wouldnt get very far drawing one-to-one correspondences between Ritwik and me.
How important is the role of history in your novel?
Oh,enormously. As the French thinker Michel Foucault once said,we are not just subjects of history but also subjected to history. I was trying to work out a certain pattern of this subjection in the lives of individuals (my characters) at given points in time.
You mentioned that the book had a troubled life in the UK. Can you share some anecdotes on it?
When the novel did the rounds of UK publishers in 2004 (or maybe 2005),every single publisher turned it down,some more than once. Some wanted more of Exotic India (spices,zari,bangles,coloured saris,smell of cow dung and incense),some really wanted to acquire it but were shot down by their sales department,some genuinely didnt like it,some simply did not have the patience or the capacity to sit through a book which only comes together right towards the end,some were not convinced by the dual narrative.
When did Picador come forward to publish it?
The manuscript lay under a bed for a year before I sent it to Shruti Debi at Picador. She loved it and acquired the book in 2006 but due to exigencies of the publishing industry,it came to be published only in early 2008.
Did its UK publication,under the title of A Life Apart,become easier after that?
A short,uncomplicated but not wholly accurate answer would be: yes.
Does your novel come under the migrant literature genre?
This book certainly does. I consciously wrote with all the myriad and confliction notions of that term in my head.
You dedicated the award to Naz Foundation. Are you part of it?
Not at all; I only found out about them recently.
You work as a literary critic,but were you apprehensive of the review Past Continuous would get?
Curious,yes. Apprehensive: perhaps not as much as I imagine someone who hasnt seen the reviewing world from the inside would be.
I dont like talking about work in progress,but yes,I have started working on it.