Longlisted author Vikramajit Ram, on how his curiosity around the lives of those away from the spotlight, led him to Mansur.
In one word: curiosity. The process: an education. There’s something compelling about people who stand quietly outside the spotlight – Jahangir’s artists, in this instance – that makes you think about their inner lives, their hopes, their loves. Although their paintings are celebrated the world over, we know precious little about these men, and some women, as flesh and blood people. The only way to reimagine their past was to dive headlong into the vast literature and material legacies of the period. The miniatures, of course, are my primary source. Five centuries on, they convey all the energy of their almost-forgotten makers.
Thank you. Art and architectural history will always have a place in my fiction and non-fiction. Five extraordinary years in the 1980s, studying at the National Institute of Design, have a lot to answer for. And going further back, growing up in the presence of books, music and art.
I don’t know if I can single out any one influence, or influences. As a writer, one is constantly reading, usually for the uninhibited pleasure of fiction, and sometimes to learn how something is done. I suppose we are chameleons of a sort, constantly adapting our writerly voices. It certainly helps to read widely, eclectically.
Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate (1986), for the sheer joy of the book’s architecture, and a timeless story of love and loss and love regained. Fond friends in the pages haven’t aged over the years! The eponymous protagonist of Bruce Chatwin’s Utz (1988) is a collector with a collection – and an obsession. As astonishing as its cold porcelain heart, the novel is a masterclass in concision. Bagoas is The Persian Boy (1972) in the second book in Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy. This is historical fiction at its best – a long-forgotten world through the all-seeing eyes of its narrator. Prepare to be reduced to puddles of tears.
It’s been a busy year with Mansur. There are some people waiting for me in the sidelines. I mustn’t test their patience!