The Daily Worker’s Chappals


Culture Strike has published a brief adaptation of a section from A Matter of Rats:

A couple of days before Independence Day this year, en route to Patna, I met Aman Sethi for dinner at a Delhi restaurant. Sethi is the author of A Free Man, a wonderful account of Ashraf, a daily-wage laborer from Patna living in Delhi. Ashraf was introduced by Sethi thus: ‘Mohammed Ashraf is a short man, a slight man, a dark man with salt-and-pepper hair; a sharp man, a lithe man, a polite man with a clipped moustache and reddish eyes.’ When we meet Ashraf in Sethi’s book he is a safediwallah, a house painter, although he has followed many professions: he had sold eggs, chicken, even lottery tickets, and has worked as a butcher, tailor, and an electrician’s apprentice. The place where he lives and waits for a contractor to pick him up for a day’s labor is the Bara Tooti Chowk, but there was a time when he was a biology student in Patna, learning to dissect rats with what he calls mummy-daddy type children.


In the Light of What We Know


My review of Zia Haider Rahman’s “strange and brilliant” novel in the New York Times Book Review. An excerpt:

Zafar’s narration shifts registers — “this fluctuation from crystal clarity of exposition to a barely restrained fury” — and folds into lengthy but fascinating digressions. Like the narrator of W. G. Sebald’s “The Rings of Saturn,” whose erudite riffing on anything from herrings to the execution of Roger Casement allowed him to make melancholic observations about the horrors of history, the Zafar of Rahman’s strange and brilliant novel is at ease drawing sharp lessons from subjects as varied as derivatives trading and the role of metaphor in determining the fate of pigeons.


Patna Poems



I have written before about taking a train to my hometown Patna. This evening I translated two train poems, from Hindi, by the Patna poet Alokdhanwa for @TheTakeaway #ThisIsWhere.



Ah, Junction!
Where trains stop for long
Collecting water for the rest
Of the journey

I search there
For my old fellow travelers



Every kind man has a train
That goes toward his mother’s house

Stretching its whistle
Blowing smoke






Chronogram Profile


A piece on A Matter of Rats in the Hudson Valley magazine, Chronogram:

A Matter of Rats was inspired by E. B. White’s 1949 essay Here Is New York, for which White traveled to Manhattan during a heat wave, staying at the Algonquin Hotel and going on daily foraging trips.

Kumar followed his lead, visiting Patna in August and going out every day to interview residents and observe such phenomena as gleeful crowds massing around the city’s first escalator, inside a five-story mall. Their eagerness to experience the new struck a chord.


The Place of Place


Download the “Introduction” to A Matter of Rats, entitled “The Place of Place” and written specially for the US edition, here on Scribd.

Each book, like a place on a map joined by roads and rivers to other places, is connected to other books. That is certainly true about this books about my hometown, Patna. There is another facet to this argument: places seemingly unconnected might well be very near each other in terms of literary representation. In my book, New York is closer to Patna than is usually imagined.

When a publisher in Delhi asked me to write about Patna, he mentioned as a possible model E.B. White’s classic essay, Here is New York.


Away From Her


My mother passed away in Patna earlier this month. This eulogy, written on the night of her death, was published in the Indian Express:

I am writing these words during a 14-hour flight from New York to Delhi. After landing in Delhi, I will catch another flight, this one to Patna. I am going to Patna to cremate my mother.


Mofussil Junction


A piece that I wrote on trains while traveling in a train. It appeared in Northeast Review:

My son turned four the other day. Every night I read to him and sometimes we read together a picture book about trains. This is a book my son likes very much. The pictures show trains in bright colors from many different countries, and often these trains have a different purpose. Most of them carry passengers, of course, but there are others that carry freight, or they clean rail-tracks, or plow snow. There is only one picture from India. The picture looks dated. The caption beneath the train says “Timber Train.” Its steam engine has a sign on the side “Insular Lumber Co.” The palm trees in the background suggest the picture was taken somewhere in south India, maybe Kerala. My son, who was born and has grown up here in the US, unfailingly asks the same question: “Dad, have you traveled on that train?”