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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ramendra Kumar — Somewhat(in)sane

Ramendra Kumar: An Interview by Raamesh Gowri Raghavan

Q1: Some believe that the genius of writing strikes like a moment of nirvana – when you realise that it is your calling in life. So If we may dare, when did it strike you that you were born to be a writer?

I did not have an apple (Newtonian) nor a eureka (Archimedean) moment.  When I was around eight  I wrote a poem – a pretty moronic one. I showed it to my dad, who, instead of whacking me for wasting my time, picked me up, hugged me and said, “It’s wonderful!”  I think it was this encouragement which made me actually believe I could write.

Q2: You are an engineer who has  successfully juggled a career in  management (you are the Chief of Communications   of Rourkela Steel Plant) and literature. How do you manage this? Do you keep them in silos, or does your work influence your writing and vice versa?
 Yes, I do keep my profession and passion in separate water tight silos. My vocation has never influenced my avocation except to provide fodder for my satires. And yes, my inclination to look for the ridiculous in the sublime has helped me thrive on the chaos which is an integral part of my profession.

Q3: You say that “In a universe which is completely mad only the somewhatsane are truly sane.” You say this is the foundation of your satirical talent, which has been endorsed by several publishing houses. So tell us a secret – is satire your first love? When did you begin writing satire, and which satirist would you claim as your hero? (And please don't be satirical about it!)
Yes, satire was my first love but since then I have acquired other mistresses too! I wrote my first satire when I was in my first year Engineering. My wacky (to me) and weird (to most), sense of humour has got me into a lot of trouble. An article I wrote on the budding feminists was published in my college magazine. The copies were burnt in every nook 'n' corner of the Campus. And this was much before Satanic Verses and Salman Rushdie made this street corner 'Sati' so very fashionable.
After I had spent ten years on the job I once again got into trouble. I had written a satire which had got published in  The Telegraph  Magazine. In it I had lampooned almost all the leading politicians and some prominent Page 3 celebrities. I was forbidden to write satire since apparently it is against the company rules to cock a snook at anything remotely connected to the establishment. I have continued writing satire but in media such as blogs where the technologically challenged guardians of the establishment’s virginity  rarely venture.

I have not really been inspired by any satirist but I love watching Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen movies.

Q4: If you were to give advice to budding satirists, what would it be? Do you believe that satire should be free of all limits, with no subject out of bounds? Or do you believe satire, like other activities in our societies, should be responsible and within bounds of decency?
 In terms of themes a satirist is free to explore every terrain. However,  satire should not  cross the  limits of  decency  - it can provoke but should not  maim sensibilities.

Q5:  How did you shift to children’s writing? In some perspectives, this is a 180 degree move, as children's writing is all about celebrating innocence, while satire mourns its loss. Did you ever have any difficulty?
When my son Aniket was born my daughter Ankita  was around  4.  My wife Madhavi, who had her hands full  with three brats at home (the third one being yours truly) told me, “You write satire and poetry don’t you? Then why can’t you tell Ankita stories and put her to sleep?”  To her shifting from satire/poetry to children’s fiction was as simple as moving from the realm of the boiled to the world of the poached egg.
Anyways, I took her rather broad hint seriously and started thinking up little tales to tell my little one. I don’t know whether she liked the plot more or my antics, but she lapped up my stories and my confidence grew. Soon it became a   tradition  which continued even after   Aniket grew up and doubled the size of my audience. The stories liked by my kids found their way to the laptop and from there to the publisher’s desk.
I don’t think I had any great  difficulty in moving from satire to  children’s fiction. Initially  I was not very confident whether I would be able to write for children. But the reaction of my in-house audience dispelled this doubt.  Gradually, as the publishers started responding and the  young and the young at heart started giving me positive feedback I became more sure of myself.
 Q6: A question close to writers – have you ever suffered writer's block? Given your prolific and varied output, it doesn't seem so. But when did a writer not have a dark secret, a somewhatinsane story hidden in the depths?
Since I write in many genres, if and when I am stuck with the writer’s block, I  switch to some other genre and continue. This strategy of moving back and forth between genres has always helped me.

Q7. Last year you made another shift away, bringing out your first thriller. How was your journey into the life of Mohini, Bollywood, vengeance and dirty secrets, so far away from the wonderful landscapes of childhood?

Writing Mohini was a challenge.  I had been writing for children for more than a decade and I wanted to experiment with something new.

Mohini is based on the Hindi film industry. I have always been hugely fascinated by Bollywood – both its on screen as well as off screen avatars.   I loved watching movies, reading about films  and collecting trivia. I regularly participated in  Movie Quizzes and  in my college days, at one point of time, my team was the best in Hyderabad.
Thus it was quite  natural  that  whenever I would decide to write a novel for adults it would be on films and filmstars.

Q8. You are never one to rest on your laurels. So what plans have you for the future? Are you going to begin a journey into another genre soon?
I few years ago I went to Kashmir for a literary festival. I met and spoke to people across the spectrum  in terms of age, profession and faith. I was struck by the innocence of  the average Kashmiri and the daily diet of brutality he/she has  to sample. I came back and wrote a novel  ‘And the Jhelum Flows…’.  The protagonist of the book is  Kashmir. The novel  looks at the  lost paradise with empathy and concern shunning the cornucopia  of clichés.  I have tried to weave  together several narratives to create  a montage of  hatred, phobia, violence  and amidst all this, the most important four letter word in today’s fractured  times : Hope.
This novel is different from anything else I have ever written both in terms of the theme as well as treatment. The ms is doing the rounds of the publishers. I am not sure if anyone will have the guts to publish it.
This independence day, I crossed   a new  milestone. My story Patriotism  was   published   as iOS and Android app!  I shall now be able to  reach out to  the members of  genNext using  a medium of their choice.

Q9. And finally, do tell us your best moment in your writing career. Not a professional high or low, but a memory that you cherish as a beautiful moment that always lives on.

Some years ago I went to Tanzania.  I got a chance to interact with the children in a dilapidated    ‘school’,  in a remote Maasai village.   I ‘sang’  in  Telugu they sang in  Swahili  and together we  ‘jived’  in ‘symphony’. The barriers of language, religion, geography and region melted  as we achieved a sublime synergy.

And lastly, we wish you a long career still ahead of you.

Your memories
On the prowl,
Stalking me
Every moment,

In the strand of hair
On the pillow,
In the empty
Flower vase,
In the patina of dust
On the TV screen,
In the faded bindi
On the dressing table,
In the mocking
Of the lonely mirror.

Your memories,
Hounding me
Closing in,
Every moment,

Putting me
On trial
For allowing
Our love
To be emasculated
By the hypocrisy
Of values;
For letting you go
You needed me most.

The verdict –
The sentence-
To wear
The shroud of
Your memories
Every moment,
Every where,
For ever and ever…..


About The Interviewer:  Raamesh GR: He is a copywriter by day and a poet by night, living in Mumbai. He thinks he is funny, but friends disagree. He can be reached at

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