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South Asian Journalists Association

VIKRAM CHANDRA
Author

SAJA Guest:
Wednesday, Jan 28, 1998
Washington, DC


See photos from his visit with SAJA

  

VIKRAM CHANDRA is the award-winning author of a novel, "Red Earth and Pouring Rain," and a collection of short stories, "Love & Longing in Bombay."

Red Earth and Pouring Rain was published in 1995 by Penguin/India in India; by Faber and Faber in the UK; and by Little, Brown in the United States.  The book was received with outstanding critical acclaim.  It won the David Higham Prize for Fiction and the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book.  It is being translated into nine other languages.

A collection of short stories, Love and Longing in Bombay, was published in 1997 by Penguin/India in India; by Faber and Faber in the UK; and by Little, Brown in the United States.  Two of these stories have been formerly published in the Paris Review and The New Yorker.  The story "Dharma" was awarded the Discovery Prize by the Paris Review.  Love and Longing in Bombay was short-listed for the Guardian Fiction Prize, and was included in "Notable Books of 1997" by the New York Times Book Review, in "Books of the Year" by the Independent (London), and in "Best Books of the Year" by the Guardian (London).

In June 1997, Vikram was featured in the New Yorker photograph of "India's leading novelists" and in March 1998, he won a Commonwealth Writer's Prize.

Red Earth and Pouring Rain was written over several years at the writing programs at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Houston.  Vikram worked with John Barth at Johns Hopkins and with Donald Barthelme at the University of Houston; he obtained an MA at Johns Hopkins and an MFA at the University of Houston.

In 2000, Vikram served as co-writer, with writer Suketu Mehta, for Mission Kashmir, a Bollywood movie directed by award-winning director Vidhu Vinod Chopra and starring Hrithik Roshan.

While writing Red Earth and Pouring Rain, Vikram taught literature and writing, and also worked independently as a computer programmer and software and hardware consultant.  His clients included oil companies, non-profit organizations, and the Houston Zoo.

He completed most of his secondary education at Mayo College, a boarding school in Ajmer, Rajasthan.  Rajasthan is a desert state in the north-west of India, and is the traditional home of the Rajput warrior clans.  After a short stay at St. Xavier's College in Bombay, Vikram came to the United States as an undergraduate student.

In 1984, he graduated from Pomona College (in Claremont, near Los Angeles) with a magna cum laude BA in English, with a concentration in creative writing.

He then attended the Film School at Columbia University in New York.  In the Columbia library, by chance, he happened upon the autobiography of Colonel James "Sikander" Skinner, a legendary nineteenth century soldier, half-Indian and half-British.  This book was to become the inspiration for Red Earth and Pouring Rain.  He left film school halfway to begin work on the novel.

Vikram, who was born in New Delhi in 1961, currently divides his time between Bombay and Washington, DC, where he teaches creative writing at George Washington University.  He is working on a new novel.

E-mail Vikram Chandra

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Acclaim for Vikram Chandra's "Love & Longing in Bombay":

When Midnight's Children first appeared on the scene, it became necessary to reevaluate stories from and about India.  With Vikram Chandra's collection--his second book--it is time to take stock again...  Chandra's Bombay is linguistically multiplanar and authentic...  breathtaking in the accuracy of its detail.  [Chandra does not rely] on the repertoire of received rumours that also infest the city.  He does not reproduce old Bombay stories as his own first inventions.  He doesn't borrow metaphors, he discovers or invents them. -- Farrukh Dhondy, The Observer.

Exceptional ... Chandra, whose second work of fiction this is, shows himself to be that rare thing, a writer who is simultaneously a master story-teller and a master stylist ... In the virtuosity of its writing, now glimmering with mystery and now flashing with menace, it is the equal of anything produced by Martin Amis or William Boyd.  -- Francis King, Spectator.

Vikram Chandra has effected a number of miracles in his new book, a collection of interrelated short stories, which I believe stands up as a really fine novel...  it is simply at ease, in a fashion rare in the contemporary novel, rarer yet when that novel addresses India, which seems to whisk many of those who try to approach it in prose into a frenzy.   Love and Longing in Bombay is a book that seeps and chatters in the mind of the reader whenever it is set aside. When you finish it, you miss it, as you miss a city, as Bombayites must miss their city even while living in it, on account of its unchanging traditions and daily frantic adaptations to the demands of the population, the industry, the west and the century...  How rare and calm a talent...  Chandra has decided to distil. The effect is dazzling....  To write with such a swing and ease about so great an area of contested preoccupation is to prove that one is born to it.  -- Candia McWilliam, The Independent on Sunday.

For all his technical complexity, Chandra's prose is calm and assured and free of excess.  The stories themselves have a perfect, fractal symmetry, each stroke containing the whole in a series of breathtaking, ever-expanding reflections.  One forgets, until it suddenly happens, what it's like to have to put a book down and walk around the room because everything in it is so good and so inevitable that you have no idea what's going to happen next.  -- Hillary Johnson, Weekly's Literary Supplement.

[Vikram Chandra] conjures up an India of glittering Bombay sophisticates, gritty policemen, high finance and low crime...  At the core of the book are two novellas of rare narrative force....  a sureness of touch and mastery of structure that are deeply satisfying....  Love and Longing in Bombay stands out as a considerable achievement, one in which the author marries his storytelling prowess to a profound understanding of India's ageless and ever-changing society....  The beguiling self-confidence of Mr. Chandra's prose is its own vindication....  Today, a new breed of Bombayite--speaking Marathi, disdaining cosmopolitanism and espousing sectarian discipline and Hindu resurgence--has come to power, and the city is officially renamed Mumbai.  With Love and Longing in Bombay, Mr. Chandra is advertising his allegiances.  In the face of the Mumbaikars' nativism, his writing--worldly, eclectic and humane--reaffirms the "old" Bombay.  -- Shashi Tharoor, New York Times Book Review.

See photos from his visit with SAJA

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