Nobody has stipulated that writers should be kind and decent people, let alone gentle and gracious ones. Writing, after all, is a solitary and selfish pursuit. Those few authors who have embodied compelling human virtues (Anton Chekhov, say, or Denis Diderot) were rare exceptions. So, too, was my friend, Kiran Nagarkar.
Nagarkar, who died in Mumbai on 5 September at the age of 77, was the Platonic form of kindness and curiosity. In addition, two of his novels (Ravan and Eddie and Cuckold) are firmly entrenched among the finest books written by Indians or about India. Among that kaleidoscopic galaxy of Indian talent Nagarkar's books fairly match Midnight's Children, The God of Small Things or Sea of Poppies. Nagarkar's most celebrated books are ostensibly about two street-wise mates making good and a medieval Rajput court riven by jealousy and intrigue. One is comedic and chaotic, the other mystical and tragic. In fact, however, those tales are actually about everything which matters, just like books about a warrior struggling home, a white whale or a woman's adultery. They overflow with life and abound in wise commentary, as they slyly manipulate a reader's perspective and sympathies.
Kiran inscribed a copy of Cuckold to me by advising me not to be troubled by its length (a mere 609 pages). "You will be through with it in a couple of years", he wrote. Kiran was teasing. I expect never to be quite finished with Maharaj Kumar in his Mewar court any more than with CWD Chawl No. 17. Kiran only reluctantly and diffidently discussed his work. Grace left him unfailingly modest and unflinchingly honest. The personal quality to which Kiran whimsically admitted was procrastination. His friends might emphasise instead Kiran's passionate social concerns, his deep consideration for others, and his quiet, thoughtful dignity. He was intensely alert to any hint of bullying, bossiness or boorishness in public life, around the world as well as in India. He deplored any such behaviour; Kiran wanted this world to do better, to be inspired by hope, animated by kindness and underpinned by decency - as he was. I recently sent a copy of A Gentleman in Moscow to Kiran, knowing he would enjoy its subtle ironies. I recognised that I was mailing the book to a gentleman in Mumbai, a gentle man whose books will resonate among readers who really seek to understand our common humanity.