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Interview with Hemant Kumar

Post by: Sonia Safri

It's not often that you get to read a book so powerful that keeps you up, and moves in your mind even after you are done reading it.
Prey By The Ganges, by Hemant Kumar, is one such novel, with its far-reaching imagery and an utterly spine-chilling thrill.
I couldn't resist the opportunity to interview the author to know more about the ideation and the writing process.

Here's all that the author shared with us.



To begin with, we suddenly saw Hemant Kumar sweeping us off our feet with his debut novel (Prey by the Ganges), and try as much (read: Google) we couldn’t really gather information about you or your background. Could we start with knowing a bit about your work (profession), your background, your family, etc.?
My Family: My father was a freedom fighter who was locked away in the Bhagalpur jail during the freedom struggle. My mother smuggled secret handbills out of her father’s underground press in Patna during the freedom struggle. The British arrested my grandfather and put him away in the dungeons of the Red Fort. Her father studied at London School of Economics and was Bar-at-Law, London. My father was a senior government officer. He is no more. My sisters are married.

My Work: After graduating in Economics from Elphinstone College, Bombay University, I joined the Press Trust of India in New Delhi as a sub-editor first and then became a reporter. Later, I joined Doordarshan as a News Correspondent. Ten years later, I left for US, to work for a media company. I returned a few years ago and worked with television channels like India TV and News 24, heading various divisions. In 2009, I sat down to write Prey By The Ganges for the second time (you will read in detail about it later in this interview).

How did you balance life while authoring the book, gathering from the acknowledgement that you had no job, no money while doing so?
I wrote the book without a job. Friends helped me with lecturing opportunities at management institutes in and around Delhi, and with writing assignments. Later, a friend helped me find a job as editor of a speciality magazine, which I still edit. Now, I write for a host of magazines.

We noticed that the book is dedicated to your father Late Shambhu Nandan Prasad, and one of your main protagonists is Vaidya Shambhu Nandan. Is the story, in any way, connected to your father? Is it what inspired you to write this tale of friendship and revenge?
My father was a brave and honest man. He is my hero. I could not have thought of any other name for my protagonist.



Tell us about Prey by the Ganges– from the gestation period till the final round of having it published and launched.
I had written the novel entirely for the first time in 2006-all 150,000 words of it. Then I sent it out to about 200 literary agents worldwide. Very few responded, fewer still politely. One agent, Tif Loehnis, who founded the Janklow and Nesbit  literary  agency, London, wrote to me that she really liked the first few chapters of my book and that she wanted to read the entire manuscript.

When I sent her the manuscript, she wrote back saying it was good but needed an entire set of changes, if she were to take it up. It was a long list. My heart sank. What she was asking me to do was completely rewrite the manuscript. I knew she was right but I did not have the heart or energy to write the story all over again. But the story was curling inside me like an in-grown nail.

I sat on it for two years, until I met the would-be editor of my second attempt at writing Prey By The Ganges.

In 2009, I sat down to rewrite Prey By The Ganges. One year and nearly a 125,000 words later, I wrote ‘The End,’ once again. When I contacted Janklow & Nesbit in 2010, I learned that Tif had left the agency and was taking a break (after a year-long break, she joined Canongate Books a few months ago, as commissioning editor).

Once again, I sent out the rewritten manuscript to more than 200 agents worldwide. Once again, no one responded. It was then that we decided to offer Prey By The Ganges to Indian publishers.


Were the characters based on your observation, or merely a figment of your imagination?
Fiction comes out of life, if we observe closely enough.

How easy or difficult was it to get your first novel published? What sort of apprehensions did you face?
It isn’t easy to have a novel published. However, a good novel will make its own way.
Prey By The Ganges
is a good novel.

Considering quite a few new-age authors are penning campus fiction tales and chick-lit and love stories, is this the genre you would like to specialize in and/or diverse in to others?
I am an observer of the human nature. But what I notice even more closely are the dark depths of their hearts and minds. My genre is crime. I will specialise in crime and thrillers.

Suspense build-up and dramatization are the pulling points in the story and that really keep the tempo up … do you like those elements in real life as well?
Since childhood itself, I have been a story teller, dramatising most mundane events into edge-of-the-seat adventures for my wide-eyed younger sister. Somewhere along the way, it became my passion.

The book has all the components to become a racy movie. Would you like to see it made into a movie if a proposal comes up? Who would you ideally see directing it and who would you choose as the protagonists?
Almost everyone who has read PBTG, has said it reads like a screenplay. I didn’t write it with a film in mind. But I have a highly visual imagination. There are many gifted directors who can turn this into a rivetting film. Shekhar Kapoor, Prakash Jha, Vishal Bharadwaj and Govind Nihalani come to mind. Shambhu could easily be played by Amir Khan, while Ajay Devgan fits the part of Gajanan, perfectly.

Bihar is changing rapidly under the helm of the efficient chief minister… any comments? What are the changes that you see in new and emerging Bihar?
Yes, Bihar is changing. It has already changed a lot. Nitish Kumar has done wonders. But, for the change to happen more completely, he needs more time.

Any insights on the next book? Have you already drafted it or is it in the ideation stage?
(You surely have a few readers eagerly awaiting your next creation.)

A sequel is what is simmering…

When not penning your thoughts, what could one catch you doing?
I walk an hour every day. I read voraciously about weapons, aircraft, wars, armed forces, international affairs, science and forensics. Weapons are my passion and I read about them like a man possessed. I was ten when I held a .38 semi-automatic pistol for the first time and fell in love with the fascinating idea of handguns. I have a keen interest in forensics and medicine.

Name some of your all time favorite books/authors?
To Kill A Mocking Bird, The Right Stuff, Catch 22, Exodus, Battle Cry, From Here To Eternity, Roots, Moon and Six pence, Lust for Life… The list is too long.




There's a lot more that we wish to find out about the author. Do you have any question for him?
Catch Hemant Kumar live on our FaceBook Fan Page on November 22 - 23 from 6pm-8pm and ask him jo dil chaahe!


Add Your Comment:

Great interview! Can't wait to read the book.

Mon,Nov 28th 2011 7:44 AM
Hemant Kumar ‎@BookChums: The motivation behind PBTG--- a the need to tell a really powerful story in a really powerful language. Honestly.
(This reply is for Ashutosh Agarwal, from Hemant Kumar.)
Tue,Nov 22nd 2011 7:49 AM
I just want to congratulate him on his first novel and wish him good luck. I just wanted to ask simple question. What was the motivation behind writing the book.. :)
Mon,Nov 21st 2011 11:52 AM