V. Sanjay Kumar’s works are an eclectic mix of his own interests and his love for cities. His earlier novels, Artist, Undone and Virgin Gingelly, are very much an urban creation, and the two metros of Bombay and Chennai are characters as much as locations in the books. In his latest book, The Third Squad, he treads new territory: that of police encounter squads and hit men. Sanjay also runs an art gallery, and it was obvious we speak to him about his obsession for it:
Do you write everyday? When and where do you write?
There are two kinds of writing that I do. What I call original stuff (perhaps first draft is a better term) – that happens early morning. I am at my laptop at 5 a.m. It is still dark outside and very quiet. During the day I re-read the material I have written earlier. And I edit. I have a small den at home where I work (pictured above). It has a large window that lets in sounds from the street below. A variety of hawkers and performers come by during the day.
Do you listen to music while writing? What’s on your playlist at the moment?
I don’t remember exactly when music began exerting an influence but I am a compulsive listener while writing. I use headphones while working and my playlist is wide-ranging. I listen to a lot of classical music especially dhrupad, Tamil film music (which I think is way better than Hindi in the last few years), alternate rock, and stuff from my daughters’ iPods. I even prepared a playlist for The Third Squad (See it here).
What’s your go-to site for distracting yourself while writing? Or do you not browse the internet while writing?
My distractions are many and podcasts are at the top of the list. I like the Guardian podcasts. I listen to the New Yorker short story readings. And I read news from the art world every day through online sites like Artinfo, Hyperallergic, and Art F City.
Do you have any pre-writing rituals or superstitions?
My morning ritual is set by Figo, our cocker spaniel. We share a banana and if he leaps high enough he gets a biscuit. And I need a tumbler of filter coffee. I don’t have any superstitions related to writing. I have no idea why some days are better than others.
As an art gallery owner, what’s the one work of art or painting you’d kill to have in your collection?
I love the work of some women artists and amongst them I am partial to Louise Bourgeois. I cannot afford her work but given a choice I would pick a piece from the Dia Foundation collection in upstate New York. I spent a month nearby on a residency and I happened to visit the place, saw their permanent collection that had many of her works. This particular work moved me. People said it was macabre but I found it beautiful. It is timeless, it is elemental, and it invokes mortality and death.
The Quartered One, 1964-65, by Louise Bourgeois
What’s more difficult: working with an artist or working with an editor?
Curiously, I get along very well with artists whose works I like. It is uncanny. Most of the dealings are handled by my colleague in the gallery, more so after I started writing seriously. But I can tell you that artists can be quite difficult when it comes to putting shows together, editing their output, and hanging the work. There was a role reversal when I started writing. After three books I have a lot of respect for editors. But initially I resented their interference. I felt I was losing my voice with all the nips and tucks that they were suggesting.
What’s the one piece of art you think everyone should see at least once in their lifetime?
It would have to be a Chola bronze. To my mind these sculptures cast around the 10th century in what is now Tamil Nadu are some of the finest examples of human aesthetic endeavour. The Madras Museum has a good collection of these bronzes. The Metropolitan in New York has some including a Somaskanda tableau that is worth the ticket price to that city.