I Try Reading ‘Cuckold’ as a Humbling Exercise: Aditya Iyengar
Aditya Iyengar is one of the rising writers on the Indian fiction scene. His books are a mix of mythology and fantasy, which make for a very interesting read. His second book, The Palace of Assassins, is just out and speaks of Ashvattama and his immortal life. We caught up with him to know what books he loves and the ones he would not recommend at all.
Q: What was the last good book that you read?
Aditya Iyengar: There are two actually that I read recently. The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray and The Liberation of Sita by Volga. The Mark and the Void is a humorous novel by Paul Murray, who is probably one of the funniest writers today. He’s even won a Wodehouse award (Or more accurately, the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for the funniest novel of the year). Volga, or P Lalita Kumari, is known for her feminist literature, and The Liberation of Sita deals with the female characters of the Ramayana, most specifically Sita. It’s a short book, but packs a hefty punch, much like Irawati Karve’s Yuganta. An eye-opening experience to say the least.
Q: What genres do you love reading and which are the ones that you avoid?
Aditya Iyengar: I’m a “pan-genreist”, if I may coin the term. I don’t think there’s any genre I avoid.
Q: If you had to give every Indian a book to read at this time, which one would it be and why?
Aditya Iyengar: Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar. Simply the best historical novel ever. Nagarkar knows how to bend genre while following its conventions and offers up something that reads like a historical novel but sounds much more contemporary.
Q: Which books according to you explain the current situation in India most appropriately
Aditya Iyengar: You really can’t make up some of the stuff that’s happening in the country, and the world for that matter. It’s honestly stranger than anything fiction’s ever created.
Q: What books would people be surprised to find on your shelf?
Aditya Iyengar: Most people who see my bookshelf are surprised to find a small collection of self-help books. I think it’s because most people assume that I read only fiction or research based non-fiction exclusively. I then normally direct their attention to a book called The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. It’s a wonderful little self-help book and features high on my list of recommendations. Billie Jean King apparently called it her Tennis Bible. But it’s not really a tennis book, it’s more a book that suggests how you can deal with cut-throat competition.
Q: Which is one of your favourite books that most people haven’t heard of?
Aditya Iyengar: Shibumi by Trevanian. It’s a meta spy thriller that was a best seller back in the 70’s. Surprisingly, many people I know haven’t read it. Read it, and then read its sequel Satori by Don Winslow.
Q: What do you read when you are working on your books? What kind of reading do you avoid while writing?
Aditya Iyengar: I don’t normally read much while I’m working on books. Maybe research material, but that’s all. I normally read in the golden time after I’ve finished one book and before I’m about to start another. After long bouts of submerging myself in work, reading comes as blessed oxygen.
Q: How do you organise your books?
Aditya Iyengar: By size. My bookshelf is unevenly designed so all the small books can fit on a certain set of shelves and the larger ones on another set. I just keep cramming them in where there is space.
Q: You are organising a literary party. Which 5 living authors would you invite and why?
Aditya Iyengar: Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman, Kiran Nagarkar, Milan Kundera and Stephen King. I’m a huge fan of all these authors, and I suspect the party will devolve into a series of monologues where I confess how much I love their work to each of them individually.
Q: Whom would you want to write your life story?
Aditya Iyengar: Myself, hopefully. Not met another writer who has a better handle on the facts.
Q: What books are going to be read next?
Aditya Iyengar: Don Winslow (an American noir writer) has come up with his latest called The Force. He writes about the Mexican drug cartels among other things. It should be interesting.
(Vivek Tejuja is a bibliophile who breathes, eats and lives books.)
(Disclaimer: Aditya Iyegnar currently works with The Quint as Assistant General Manager, Content Marketing.)