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Interview de Krishna Baldev Vaid
Propos recueillis par Philippe Pratx
pour La Nouvelle Revue de l'Inde et Indes réunionnaises

      Connu dès les années soixante comme un des piliers du "nouveau roman" hindi, Krishna Baldev Vaid est l'auteur d'une vingtaine de romans, de pièces de théâtre et de critiques littéraires. C'est à l'occasion de la traduction en français, par l'éditeur suisse Infolio, de son livre Requiem pour un autre temps que nous lui avons posé nos questions et qu'il a eu la gentillesse de nous répondre...

  • IR/LNRI : Krishna Baldev Vaid, you are a well known writer, but less known in France: so how would you introduce yourself to French readers?

KBV : It's my misfortune that I am not a familiar name among French readers even though I have had four books published previously in France--two volumes of short stories. a short novel entitled "Lila", and a play. I hope the translation of my novel, "Guzara Hua Zamana" by my friend and a consummate translator of Hindi fiction, Annie Montaut, will introduce me and my work to a wider circle of French readers. By way of introducing myself to my French readers, I would like to stress the fact that I have been profoundly influenced in my formative years by the French avant-garde of the late nineteenth century and early 20th century in literature and the fine arts -- Jarry, Apollinaire, Lautréamont, Tzara, Breton, Proust, Henri Michaux and many others. I have experimented with narrative structure right from the beginning. I have tried to avoid the beaten track and taken risks unlike many of my contemporaries. I chose to write in Hindi even though I knew English rather well and earned my living as a professor of English in India and U. S. A. I thought writing in Hindi was more of a challenge for me than writing in English. I think I will stop here because I do not find it easy or comfortable in talking about my work -- I have a fear that I will become immodest if I say more. I am by nature rather diffident.

  • IR/LNRI : When and how did your liking for literature and writing start?

KBV : I think I was 'infected' rather early in my school years. By the time I reached the university as a student, I knew that I'd earn my living as a university teacher and devote myself to writing creatively. A few teachers in my high school and college detected my 'infection' and nursed my talent by encouraging me. An inclement environment at home drove me inward and enriched my imagination, I believe.

  • IR/LNRI : Who are the writers you admire the most in Indian and world literature?

KBV : It will be a long list, I'm afraid, but I will restrict myself to mention the ones I admire most: Tagore, Prem Chand, Nirala, Nirmal Verma (even though I am also critical of his limitations and failings as a writer), Vinod Kumar Shukla, Ashok Vajpeyi, Krishna Sobti, Shamsher Bahudur Singh, Muktibodh , U.R.Anantamurthy, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyaya , Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao. Amnd world wriuters: Shakespeare, Racine, Cervantes, Laurence Stern, Henry James, Flaubert, Dostoevesky, Tolstoy, Goncharov, Babel, Proust, James Joyce, Beckett, Marquez, Virginia Woolfe, Michaux, Eliot, Pound, Mann, Goncharov, Neruda, E.M.Cioran and several more.

  • IR/LNRI : What do you think of Indian literature and especially young Indian writers nowadays?

KBV : Indian literature is written in more than 18 major languages and English. Unfortunately in the West modern Indian literature written directly in English is mistakenly considered as the only Indian literature worth serious attention. That is not the case. Of course there are some very good Indian writers in English -- Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Anita Desai and a few others but there are many average and below average Indo-Anglian writers as well. The language letters are ignored even when they are well-translated. Translation from Indian languages other than English is problematic, and there are not many great translators. Annie Montaut, I believe, is an exceptional translator from Hindi fiction.
   I have an ambivalent attitude to modern Hindi and Urdu literature. I admire many writers but find many more poor and timid and hampered by their inhibitions and their mistaken regard for progressivism and social responsibility as writers. Many of them still view concern for form and style with suspicion and keep on producing literature that is not very different from journalism. However, I have faith in the young writers even though I wish they were more audacious and iconoclastic in their writing.

  • IR/LNRI : How important is Guzrâ Huâ Zamânâ in your works?

KBV : Guzara Hua Zamana is a belated sequel to my very first novel, Uska Bachpan (Steps in Darkness in English translation by me). Uska Bachpan is the cornerstone of my fiction in more senses than one. It concentrates on a lower middle class family as seen and experienced by a young boy Birou who is extremely sensitive,, precocious, morbid, and imaginative. The locale is a very small town in pre-partition Panjab. Guzara Hua Zamana is narrated by the same Birou who is now in a college away from his hometown but back home during summer vacation. There are portents of fear and turmoil in that small town where Birou has grown up. I have attempted to offer a fictional microcosm of the macrocosm of tensions between Hindus and Sikhs on the one side and Muslims on the other. Birou and a bunch of his friends--Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs--become the troubled conscience of the tense town. They and a group of half-crazed alienated elders provide the core of sanity and clarity that stands against hatred and violencebut is unable to overcome it. It is a novel rich in black humour and fantastic characters. It is an important element of my oeuvre.

  • IR/LNRI : Today, would you write again the same novel about the same topic?

KBV : No, I don't think I can write the same novel on the same topic today. But my experience of Partition of India was very traumatic, perhaps the most traumatic; and I had to write Guzara Hua Zamana in order to go on living and writing about other things. It took me twenty five years to relive the trauma and write Guzara Hua Zamana.

  • IR/LNRI : Is there anything of Krishna Baldev Vaid in your narrator, Birou?

KBV : There is a lot of Krishna Baldev Vaid in Birou. Of course, there is a lot of imaginative distortion also there. But I believe that the character and the mind of the novelist permeates his entire work and especially that part of it which comes out of his or her personal experience.

  • IR/LNRI : You are well known for your personal prose, your particular writing style: can you tell us more about it?

KBV : I attach a lot of importance to style and stylists are my favourite writers. My style has been formed by my early exposure to Urdu and classical Persian and a bit of Arabic. I had an excellent Urdu and Persian teacher in my high school in that small town on which the unnamed small town of Uska Bachpan and Guzara Hua Zamana is based. I learnt Hindi on my own later while I was at college. I have kept the door of my consciousness open to Urdu and Persian. My choice of words is governed by considerations of euphony--sound is as important to me as sense. I think in my best sentences I am able to create a kind of music. My Hindi is richer because of my Urdu and Persian. I take many risks in style; I think of style as an excitement because of the risks I take, almost intuitively.

  • IR/LNRI : How do you look upon the India-Pakistan situation today?

KBV : The Indo-Pak situation is farcical at times and dangerous most of the time. Pakistan is hung up about Kashmir and cannot forget India's role in the secession of what is now Bangladesh from Pakistan. The nuclear rivalry and parity complicates matters further. But I believe that if Pakistan can get rid of its reliance on its Generals and succeeds in establishing a stable and noisy democratic civil government that is genuinely interested in the economic and social welfare of its people, all its problems with India can be resolved and the borders can cease to be barriers between the two countries. I may be wrong but I blame Pakistan more than I do India for the tension between the two countries.

  • IR/LNRI : Why did you decide recently to leave India?

KBV : I have not decided to leave India. In actual fact, I have been dividing my time between India and U.S.A ever since my voluntary early retirement from teaching in 1985. Technically I was a resident of U.S.A throughout this period and a citizen of India. I am still a citizen of India and a resident of U.S.A. We cannot continue to go back and forth between India and USA as we have been doing so far. So we will be spending more time in USA where our children and grandchildren are and not in India where our friends and roots are. 5 hope I will be able to write something of value out of this experience as well.

  • IR/LNRI : Are you planning any new book and any French translation?

KBV : I have been at work on a novel for the past seven years; I hope I will continue to bend over it. I'd love to have all my work translated into French--novels, short stories, plays, diaries--because France is the second spiritual home of all writers and artists.

© La Revue de l'Inde et Indes réunionnaises 2012


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