Novels typically focus on a single character or group of characters, and on the nature of the relationship between the self and its environment, the self and society, the self and time, the self and history. For novelists, then, the kind of story they choose, the kind of language they choose to write it in, their choice of major and minor characters, even the kinds of people or situations they do not write about – all these things have an inescapably political dimension.
And yet the paradox – it is one of the necessary paradoxes by which art earns its life and its importance – is that if is to really have an effect, political thinking inside the novel must trace a very different arc as compared to political discourse in other arena. It must leave many doors open, which in other kinds of forms writers would ordinarily try to close.
On the one hand, it would be hard to write a novel that was not in some way political; on the other hand, it is extremely hard to write a novel that – by the astute use of narrative art, narratorial emphasis or irony, suggestion, juxtaposition, allegory, bricolage, even silence – carries a political charge that could not be reproduced by other forms of writing.
When I think of the great Indian political novels from the last century, like Fakir Mohan Senapati’s Six Acres and a Third, Yashpal’s This Is Not That Dawn, and UR Ananthamurthy’s Samskara; or impressive modern political novels from elsewhere in the world, such as Shahriar Mandanipour’s Censoring An Iranian Love Story, Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness In My Mind, and Jim Crace’s Harvest, I see that very little unites them at the level of method. Each carries us into the space of a novel political imagination.
These are the models I have in front of me when I say that my own work is political, too. I often write about Indian politics in newspapers and magazines; on the unfolding story of Indian democracy, on right-wing Hindu nationalism, on the messiness of Indian history and the political charge this carries for some people. But all the emphases and perceptions I present in such pieces, I want to leave out when I sit down to write a story, although the preoccupations might remain the same. I would like the story and the reader to meet each other without Chandrahas Choudhury, as it were. I would even like my story to be somehow more intelligent and empathetic than myself, to be a many-sided mirror in which many different kinds of people can find their experiences refracted and their political imaginations stimulated.
I write about the everyday life of a society in which the conjunction of politics and modernity has, in 70 years, made possible a kind of change that exceeds what happened in the millennium previous to that. I want to portray truthfully the confusion and contradictions of my age in history, and present especially interesting and provocative situations rather than solutions. In particular, I am keen in my stories to find a way of reproducing convincingly, through my characters, the reason and the logic of political positions that in my own life I would always resist or reject. This, for me, represents the place of real truth, of real tension, when it comes to politics and the novel.