Guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme 2008
Kiran Nagarkar was born in Bombay in 1942 and is one of India's most important authors. His novel God's Little Soldier, which appeared in German in 2006 as Gottes kleiner Krieger, made him an overnight success in Europe. In this very political novel, he describes the path that a young Indian takes through various stages of fundamentalism through to terrorism. Nagarkar has also written numerous novels, plays, and screenplays. His first novel, Seven Sixes are Forty Three (Sieben mal sechs ist dreiundvierzig) dates from 1994 and is seen as a milestone in post-independence Indian literature.
My stay in Germany has changed the way I see my home country of India.
However, it took a few years before Nagarkar was able to establish himself among the Indian public. This is why he initially worked as a lecturer, a journalist and, above all, as a creative in the advertising industry after graduating from his studies in English literature in Bombay. His mother tongue is Marathi, one of the 22 official national languages of India. It's spoken by around 70 million people and is thought to be one of the twenty most spoken languages in India. In the country itself, however, it was considered unusual – and also obstructive to his circulation – for him not initially to have used the main languages – Hindu or English. In the meantime, the author has been decorated with major Indian literary prizes, including in 2000 the highest distinction of the Indian Academy of Literature, the Sahitya Academi Award. By comparison, however, his books are in much greater demand in Europe.
Nagarkar says his stay in Germany as a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme changed the way he sees India. What really impressed him about the Berlin metropolis was "all the greenery" and the "astonishing peace and quiet", compared with India's major cities. He now constantly compares his home town of Mumbai with Berlin – and the result is not good for Mumbai. The author has a critical eye for his home town. Noise, pollution, corruption, poverty, political stagnation, these are what he sees as his country's main problems – and as topics for his books. "I love India, that's why I have to criticise it," he says. However, his novels are by no means dark and gloomy. Critics and readers alike praise the playful imagination, the fantabulous passion for language, always with a sharp eye on the present.
Nagarkar is an author who tends to live a secluded life. In Germany, he prefers to go to museums or cinemas, since art and film are among his great passions. He tends to avoid parties or receptions. Playing a part in the lively literary scene is not one of his things. However, he has grown to appreciate the close contact with his readers in Germany. Nowhere else in the world, says Nagarkar, has he experienced as many readings, interested readers or questions.