What were you doing at the time you wrote your first novel, The Opium Clerk?
I was a marketing faculty member at McGill University in Canada. The Opium Clerk was published soon after I started at the SaÃ¯d Business School as an academic.
What drew you to the historical novel as aÂ genre?
As a young reader I was fascinated by history and historical novels written in my mother tongue, Bengali, as well as those from world literature. Â Hugo, Dickens, Tolstoy and Bankimchandra had instilled a taste for intricate human stories enacted against the backdrop of great social change. They fed my curiosity for unfamiliar worlds. Â The reading of history as such opened up a treasure trove, full of shadowy characters, incomplete tales, and tantalising possibilities.
Do you see business studies and literature as being connected at all, and if so, how?
I have never sought to connect my professional pursuit of business academia with my passion for writing. Â Life is full of disjunctions, and I’ve left it as such. Â What one does for a living should be done well. Â But the rest of life is still spacious enough to house a grand passion or two. Â Â
How do you divide your time between academic, professional and creative pursuits?
Through extreme forms of jugglery. Â Academic and creative pursuits are jealous masters and demand extraordinary commitment. Â Over the last ten years I’ve written five books of fiction and copious amounts of academic articles. Â Everything else has suffered: holidays, socialising and sleep. Â I don’t divide time strategically, but follow a rule of thumb — to do well, to do what’s most inspiring at the moment. Â Â
T.S. Eliot Â said that had he not worked at a bank while he wrote poetry, he wouldn’t have written as he did. Do you wish you wrote full-time?
Unlike T.S., I don’t see any similar effects that come from working in a business school. Â There is no direct or obverse inspiration that I draw from it into my fiction. Â I have never considered setting a novel in the corporate world, and there’s no secret corridor that connects these two lives of mine. Â I am a full time writer by my estimation. Â It’s simply that I have doubled the time to do everything I have to do by cutting out the inessentials.
Now that you have published four novels, did you find the process of writing The Yellow Emperor’s Cure to be different?
Despite all being historical novels, they’ve been different in scope, architecture, and method. Â I’ve had to rediscover myself as an author each time, which brings great excitement to my writing life. Â For Emperor, for example, I’ve had to write about the Europeans and the Chinese from their respective perspectives, treating history as the instrument of discord. Â Â