What is your current state of mind?
Curious. Also a mix of determination and tense nervousness. Just like a rat’s, I think.
What one thing should every man know about women?
That it is in our interest to be tender. Every woman I’ve known has a sophisticated appreciation for this trait.
What is your principal defect?
As we have just met, I feel I can be completely honest with you: my defects resist hierarchy. Like the fearsome West Indian bowlers of yore, my defects operate in packs. Anger, Impatience, Vanity, Lust.
What personal resolution do you break most often?
I gave my students and myself a daily mantra: Write Every Day and Walk Every Day. I don’t walk every day.
Which one book do you wish you had written?
English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee, the funniest Indian novel in English. But, in order to write it, I’d have had to join the IAS. So, I don’t lose sleep over it.
What is your biggest regret?
When I think of my youth, I’m suddenly running down a long, endless corridor. The sun is hot. It sits still, bleaching the bones of the afternoon. The running figure screams over and over again, “What a waste! What a waste!”
What are you searching for?
Language. Language to name emotions, people, places.
What has been your biggest extravagance?
That island in the Pacific. It was an expense I could hardly afford. No, I’m kidding. I love my children to wild excess. I won’t lie: it seems a form of indulgence at times. But it has yielded the greatest joy.
What one experience do you want to have before you die?
I’d like Tabu to ask me a question. Any question. “Yahan se Bandra ka raasta pata hai?” Or, “Another drink?”
What is your favourite place on earth?
What irritates you most about other people?
That I get them wrong all the time.
What would you like your epitaph to read?
He failed often, but look—no one fails all the time.
Amitava Kumar’s A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna (Aleph, Rs 295) is in stores now