Interviewed by T.N. Shaji, Education Insider, July 2012
K.Arivazhagan aka Charu Nivedita is a noted name in transgressive, post-modern literature. The Chennai based writer began his sublime and creative journey at a very young age. For over 35 years, he traversed a road that many fear to tread. His novels Existentialismum Fancy Baniyanum, Zero Degree, Rasa Leela and Kamarooba Kathaigal caused quite a stir within the Tamil literary circle for deviating from the conventional style of storytelling and shattering cultural myths and beliefs about the body and the mind, subjects that were considered a taboo until then. Interacting with Charu Nivedita is an inspiring experience. His views are thought provoking. In an exclusive interview with Education Insider, he shares his outlook on education, creativity, life etc. Excerpts:
What’s your opinion on creativity and education?
Creativity and education are poles apart in the contemporary education system, which focuses on improving knowledge rather than wisdom, an integral element of creativity. Youths graduating from institutions are like plastic buckets getting cloned out from in a moulding machine. This should alert every Indian.
Do you think there is a general aversion among people to read fiction now a days? Does that have anything to do with the technological explosion?
Today’s youth lack reading habit. The primary reason for this is that they have taken to the disadvantages of technical growth, instead of advantages. They are addicted to video games, social networking sites, mobile phones and gadgets. Games like RapeLay, a molestation simulation game, are popular among the youth. The accusing finger here has to be pointed at the system of education, which has been turned into a horse race that gives them mental stress and physical pressure. The youth seldom read fiction in India. Only implementation of fundamental reforms in the education sector as in the western countries, can bring about a progression from this pathetic state.
How would you describe your novel Zero Degree to someone who has not read any of your works?
My novel Zero Degree could shock the readers who have not read my other works. But it can give them a sense of proximity if they are familiar with transgressive writings like that of Kathy Acker and Cristina Peri Rossi. Also, the primary difference between Indian novels and Zero Degree would be the universal nature of plot, which surpasses the Indian boundaries. And it does’nt possess any Indianness or the life of Tamils. Unlike the conventional course adopted by the writers in India, where even anthropology and autobiography are considered to be part of literature, this novel takes the road less travelled.
Will you explore existentialism, deconstruction etc in your future books?
I never create my fiction based on any existing ‘isms’. I like concepts and ideologies, like that of Jorge Luis Borges, whose works have the components of structuralism, though he never had the intention to create such components. An artist should go beyond ideologies and concepts. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes have made a great impact on me, and that remains the understream of whatever I have written and would write henceforth.
What are you reading right now? Are there any authors (living or dead) that you would name as influences?
In world literature, nobody attracts me like Shakespeare. I read him often. In my opinion, a master is one who can attract his readers time and again. There are indeed two authors whom I read frequently – Nikos Kazantzakis and Serbian writer Milorad Pavić. If the writing of Kazantzakis can be categorised as modern epics, Pavić creates a maze in his writings. These are my two favourites.
Apart from these two, the contemporary Arabic literature is at the helm now, surpassing Latin American and European literature. I could readily list at least fifteen writers, who are well qualified for the Nobel Prize, from Morocco and Algeria. I have read the works of writers like Tahar Ben Jelloun ( Morocco), recipient of the prestigious Dublin Impac Award, Mohammed Berrada (Morocco), Assia Djebar and Ghada Samman (Lebanon), to name a few. The best is Abdul Rahman Munif (Saudi Arabia), who can be called the Dostoyevsky of the 20th century. But it is depressing to see Arabian literature not getting its due, when compared with Latin American and European literature.
I forgot to name a writer who had influenced me. I have been influenced by European cinema, and anybody who is familiar with European cinema can easily make out the influence of Jean-Luc Godard in my writings.
Which is the book that influenced your life the most? And how?
More than books, people influence me; everyday life influences me. Even today, I read in newspapers that a 14 year old murdered an old lady to buy himself a Playstation, which kindled many questions in my mind, probing our life today. Such an episode in a Western country would have caused throughout the nation. But in India, these incidents are part of everyday life. Similar news gets published everyday, which makes us question factors like our education system and the way the children are brought up. But nobody is worried here; India has become a country for the elites and the upper class.
Name your five favourite books and tell me why do you like them.
1.) Che Guevara’s Bolivian Diary: The book made me think about living not just for myself, but for the sake of others.
2.) Zorba the Greek (Nikos Kazantzakis) : The book made me realise that life as a genius, is not as useful as enjoying life. This book made me a hedonist.
3.) Dictionary of Khazars (Milorad Pavić) : The book which taught the limitless possibilities of fiction writing. One can keeping reading it for countless times.
4.) The Mahabharata: It makes me wonder if it is humanly possible to write such a book.
5.) Meeting the Remarkable Men (George Ivanovich Gurdjieff) : The book proved to me that the modern thought process based on mere rational thinking was wrong and there are other ways of perceiving reality.
Tell me about your first job, and the inspiration of your writing, and any funny details that enlivened your page.
In India, a doctor can live his life as a doctor. An engineer, a teacher, a goldsmith or any other professional can do his job and survive. But a writer is not that lucky. Literature would never give him his bread. Popularity – yes; But food – A big no. This realisation made me take up a government job in my younger days. I worked for twenty years in thee different departments. My tenure of ten years with the Ration Department in Delhi was an interesting experience. I have written about these, in my novel Rasa Leela, in detail.
You said, “My writing is nothing but brush strokes of a person trying to escape from hell”. Can you elaborate?
Life is nothing but hell in Third World Countries. I flee from this tortuous nightmares only through my writings. In short, I could say that I am postponing my suicide through my writings.
Do you make any conscious effort to break the rules of society?
I do not have any agenda while I write. It is an act of swinging between schizoid state and creativity. I try to transform this schizoid state into art. Other than doing so, I never think about society or its rules. When I don’t think about them how can I talk about breaking them? A writer is someone who transcends the boundaries of time, country and race – he becomes immortal and is so equivalent to God, which is why the social norms mean nothing to him. Once at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, while answering a question from a student about how I write, I replied impulsively, “I write as a bird flies”.
You are a successful author? Do you think it is viable to be a full-time writer?
Success does not bring money. A writer’s job is one of the lowest paid, in the world. My friends take good care of me. Hence, I am free from the problems face by Kafka or Rimbaud. I completed my 700 page novel Raasa Leela, sitting in the bar of a five-star hotel in Chennai. One of my friends, bore the expenses. As long as I have friends like these, I could concentrate on my writings, without worrying about the miseries of mundane life.
http://issuu.com/dcmedia/docs/ei_iv_th_issue_pdf_for_web (p.56 and 57)