The last chapter of Non-Stop India, Saving the Tiger stands out somewhat from the rest of the book. If you’re looking at environmental factors, given that the overarching theme of the book is corruption, one would have thought you’d look at the mining scams, for instance, or in keeping with the non-stop theme, at nuclear power projects. What was the motivation for focusing on tigers?
Well, the motivation was, because all these things are to do with environment basically, it seemed to me that if you can’t save the tiger, with all this concentration which has gone into it, what can you save? So you have to take it as a parable, and in it, you have everything, really, in a way, which is wrong with the attempts to save the environment – the corruption, the inefficiency of the forces, the inefficiency of the courts, all the things. So, in a way, to me, it seemed to make an up-summing chapter in a way, and also a parable of a chapter. You know, there’s bits about the mining scandal in the chapter on naxalites, and we were nearly killed as a result of the mining scandal! (Laughs) And that’s why I chose the story of the tiger as a parable.
You speak of yourself as a reluctant writer, but your writing reveals such a love for the written word – you have sentences like “foods serve as a metaphor for cultural hierarchies”, you speak of the “slight American twang that corporate executives adopt in India”, of a man with a “perpetually angry look”.
(Laughs) I am a reluctant writer. In that, I don’t enjoy the process, necessarily, and there’s a funny thing I can’t quite explain to you, but I’ve always felt that we writers have a temerity about us, which is rather unpleasant. Here we are, saying “I’m going to impose my views on you”. What are my views worth, really, anyhow? I’d say there are three factors. Number one, I don’t actually enjoy it, especially this computer business. (Laughs) Number two, I do have this hesitation about saying “I’m a writer” – there’s something presumptuous, slightly ickish about it, you know what I mean? And thirdly, I’m not that confident a writer, I need other people around to tell me whether it’s any good or not. I’ll tell you what the phrase I would use is: there is a tendency of writers to take themselves too seriously, that’s what I really dislike about it, you know. I hope I don’t ever take myself too seriously! (Laughs)
Image: A 1730 depiction of a royal tiger hunt in Udaipur, Rajasthan. The painting is a watercolour, with touches of gold and silver. The painting currently is owned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art