Wednesday, October 6, 2010

An Interesting Life - Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra is a writer - novelist; he also writes essays, literary review and more non fiction. He writes for The New York Times, Guardian etc.,He was living in Delhi and later moved to a small Himalayan village- Mashobra. More about him here

In his New York Times article "Games India isn't ready to play" he says only the affluent elite Indians are anxious about India's image in the wealthy world. He further says "Like hundreds of millions of other voiceless Indians, the migrant laborers in my village are even less able to distinguish between the oppressions of old feudal India and the pitiless exploitations of the new business-minded India." He concludes by quoting Walter Benjamin, a German philosopher, “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.”

As I was impressed by the article, I endeavored to know more about the man.

In his interview to the Believer magazine he comes across as a very well read and articulate person.

And in case you do not have the time to go through the whole interview, some interesting excerpts:

"Initially, I saw the life of the writer as a life of reading, which for me was really an extension of the life of idleness that I’d been living as an undergraduate at university. Reading gave me so much pleasure that I felt that maybe I could continue that life indefinitely. I basically went from day to day, reading a lot, loving most books I read and making notes about them. I was just hoping that nothing would happen—like having to apply for a job or think seriously about a career—that would put a stop to the wonderful life I was leading. And, miraculously, nothing stopped me."

"I definitely miss that sense of being a disinterested reader who’s reading purely for the pleasure of imagining his way into emotional situations and vividly realized scenes in nineteenth-century France or late nineteenth-century Russia. Often I find that when I go back to those books by Flaubert or Chekhov—which I loved—I’m unable to summon up that same imaginative richness. That seems to me a huge loss. Now I’m thinking more about the craftsmanship of it—why did this paragraph end here—narrowly technical things."

"I don’t know how many critics today are trying to make the act of reading a more enriching experience as distinct from establishing their own superior intelligence vis-à-vis authors."

"I write for a very elite audience, but is there something else that I’m also responsible to? People who write about issues like poverty or terrorism are a part of the elite, and the distance between the elite and nonelite is growing very fast. You can move around the world but meet only people who speak your language, who share the same ideas, the same beliefs, and in doing so you can lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of the world does not think or believe in or speak the everyday discourse of the elite. Yet their lives are being shaped by these elites, by people like us. I don’t mean this in a pompous way, but we have a responsibility to articulate their sense of suffering."

"You need to work yourself up into some kind of a state every morning and believe that you are doing something terribly important upon which the future of literature, if not the world, depends. Buddhism tells you that this is just a foolish fantasy. So, I try not to think too much about Buddhism early in the morning. From noon on, I think about it."

"I wake up at five or five-thirty, have a cup of coffee on the balcony overlooking the mountains, which is absolutely wonderful, look at the newspapers, start work. Lunch arrives—lunch is made by a family in the village, they deliver it."

"The internet has spawned people for whom knowingness is more important than knowledge. It equips you with the illusion of offering knowledge instantly—and quite easily—so you can read a few articles on a few subjects and feel well informed but not actually know any of those subjects in any depth."

"I feel very privileged to get to read and write and not to have to do things that I don’t like, and I don’t want to give that up. Everything else is just a bonus and often a distraction from the writing, reading, and traveling that gives me the most pleasure. I feel that I already have the life I love and I don’t see how it could be improved radically by any greater material success."

A man of substance.... should read him more.


Vaishnavi said...

what a luxury!!
I dream of such a retirement... house overlooking mountains and wake up to your reading room. AH !!

Love the way he self gratifies his passion for reading and how he pledges not to do what he does not like.. What a previlege.. Reminds me of another post of yours where you mention how you rather grab a book to find some info while google could have made life lot easier..

makes me think now, should i jus give up my job hunt :)

Geetha said...


Oh yeah... we can dream of such a life after retirement...whereas he is enjoying such a life well in his productive years. Hmmmm...

"I wake up at five or five-thirty, have a cup of coffee on the balcony overlooking the mountains, which is absolutely wonderful, look at the newspapers, start work. Lunch arrives—lunch is made by a family in the village, they deliver it."

Every bit of that sentence is wonderful....

Balu said...

this guy reads 350 pages a day, it takes a whole life time for me to finish "Atlas Shrugged" I had started 3 to 4 times and left half way. (offcourse I have finished fountainhead, Anthem,we the living, for the new intellectual)
I am doing a work for a client in Pune, Once you open his living room window 20 feet by 8 feet,on the 7 th floor, you have a complete Pune university view (Full green). Buy a flat like that, read more and write more. I shall sit in this concrete jungle and read your writings.

Kishores said...

Seems to be a nice person. Writing by elites like us about non-elites for reading by elites (like us) is one way of expressing our concern for non-elites. Sometimes we try to tread beyond - do some actual field work. Ideally both should go hand in hand besides our secular vocation to feed us and our kin. This dilemma (or struggle to side with non-elites) always widens the gulf between us (elites) and non-elites. Result - we are neither here nor there. Writing is often incomplete, our vocation is not satisfying and our social work is "once in a blue moon".