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Aravind Adiga: ‘Cricket has become the spearhead of the new Indian capitalism’

By December 10, 2018No Comments

Source : The Guardian

The Booker-winning novelist on how disgust for his national sport fuelled his novel Selection Day and why he’ll always love Somerset Maugham


Aravind Adiga’s debut novel, The White Tiger, was a searing portrait of the clash between rich and poor, rural and urban, in contemporary India; it won the 2008 Man Booker prize. His subsequent novels include Last Man in Tower and Selection Day, which tells the story of two brothers growing up poor in Mumbai and chasing cricketing stardom. Kamila Shamsie described it as a “finely told… moving and intelligent novel” and it will be reissued on 13 December ahead of a Netflix series based on the book, which will be released on 28 December.

Selection Day is about a father who envisages a grand future in Indian cricket for his sons. Was it prompted by your love for the sport?
No. Actually, it comes from something close to disgust with the way cricket is played in India. It’s often said that cricket and Bollywood are the two real religions of India, which unite people of all backgrounds, and there’s much truth to that.

What is it that repels you about it?
There’s always been a fair amount of money involved in cricket in India. But what has happened in the last two decades is that, ironically, this game that in some ways began in England and was, if you will, an aristocratic backlash against emergent industrial capitalism – that game has become the spearhead of the new Indian capitalism, in the sense that cricket is used to sell everything here, from mobile phones to consumer products like shampoo and soap.

And it’s also had its controversies…
There have been numerous scandals associated with match-fixing and illegal betting [that] have never been quite dispelled, although they seem to be behind us now. It’s the centre of legal commercial enterprise, but it also has very deep connections to something murkier and unpleasant. If you walk down the streets of any Indian city today, you’ll see people gambling money on matches that are happening across the world, whether they feature India or not.

And all this is done illegally and it runs into the several hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more, each year. So this so-called gentleman’s game is now, to me, one of the world’s largest money-laundering operations masquerading as a Victorian gentleman’s game.

You focus on the effect the sport has on two brothers. Why that plotline?
The Indian Premier League has taken the commercialisation of the game to a new level. I was having lunch in Mumbai about five or six years ago with a businessman who was going to slums across the city and looking for talented young boys playing cricket. Historically, in India it was a middle-class sport, even an upper-middle-class sport. In the last couple of decades, there has been a democratisation of cricket; this is the good part. Cricket has spread both away from the big cities and down the social hierarchy. S, so a lot of poorer boys are playing cricket and they tend to be more driven because they’re more desperate. This businessman was looking for boys to sponsor, on the understanding that if they made it in the IPL to play for Mumbai or for India, he would receive a substantial portion of their marketing and advertising revenues. So that is how the IPL in a sense created this book, because I followed him around and I then started a novel that way.

You spoke to some of the boys. What did that tell you?
It’s a monomaniacal upbringing where you have to play cricket and have to do well and life is quite rigidly regulated in terms of what they could eat, whom they can associate with. Usually, there’s a controlling parent, almost always a father.

One of the boys, when I asked him about his mother, said: “Mummy has run away”, which initially made me laugh, because it seemed like a strange thing to say; usually it’s the boy who runs away, not the mother. But often the controlling father is a pretty unpleasant person to live with, not just for the boys but also for his wife. So in more than a couple of cases, the boys have been living effectively with the father alone since they were quite young, and that allowed me to broaden the story out and do a larger exploration of some aspects of contemporary urban Indian masculinity.

The White Tiger centred on a chauffeur who kills his employer and then creates a new life. What motivated you to write it?
It began out of a question I have: whether a man could live on his own in India. Because life in India is so much more social, a human being’s life here is so enmeshed in social networks. And I was struck, more than 15 years ago, when a policeman told me that it was impossible for anyone to hide in India because sooner or later that man’s accent, his appearance, some aspect of the way he ate, would give him away. How one can be free and what price will have to be paid is how I see each story starting off.

I must be very honest: my books are equally motivated by my desire to make a nuisance of myself. I have fewer and fewer subjects that I can pick on, because I’ve written about a few to annoy my Indian readers.

Why do you think you want to be a nuisance?
My mother used to say that she thought I had the wrong nervous system for India, because I get irritated. I hate being stared at, for instance. I can’t negotiate, I can’t bargain and she used to say she thought it was remarkable that her children should be born in India because all people here do is stare at you and they bargain. So I don’t have the right nervous system here and the books are in a sense an attempt to handle that and deal with it.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading the poetry of a man named Kenneth Koch, an American poet who died a few years ago, and he taught me when I was a student at Columbia University. I’m reading a lot of contemporary poetry right now. I was going to start reading Adrienne Rich next.

Which book or author do you always return to?
I have books I always read when I’m writing, and one of them is Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham. It’s a book that always reminds me why I wanted to be a writer and what it is you want to avoid as you write. It’s very special because it’s so unlike anything else Maugham wrote.

What else is on your reading pile?
I do read manuscripts by younger writers that are sent to me, because I’m trying to help more talented young writers. One is by Keshava Guha and it’s called Accidental Magic.

And are you working on another book right now?
Yes, so in another a couple of years, maybe, it will come out. As I age – I’m in my mid-40s now – my thoughts are very much on what I can get done in the time I have. Because in a few months I will have outlived my mother and I never thought, as a boy, I would be older than she was when she died, so I don’t take it for granted that I have a large number of years ahead. I’m very much focused on what comes next and what comes after that. Each book is a battle now to see through the press and that’s good. It should be that way. Because the world has no shortage of novels.

 Selection Day by Aravind Adiga is published by Pan Macmillan (£8.99).

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