Authors: Vikram Chandra

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Indian-born American novelist and short-story writer

Identity: East Indian American

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Red Earth and Pouring Rain, 1995

Short Fiction:

Love and Longing in Bombay: Stories, 1997

Teleplay:

City of Gold, 1996 (series)

Biography

Vikram Chandra (SHAHN-drah) was born in New Delhi, India, on July 23, 1961. His father, Navin Chandra, was a company president. Vikram’s mother, Kamna Kavshik Chandra, a successful screenwriter, playwright, and author, encouraged her children to be creative; one of Vikram’s two younger sisters eventually became a filmmaker, the other, a journalist and film critic.{$I[A]Chandra, Vikram}{$I[geo]INDIA;Chandra, Vikram}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Chandra, Vikram}{$I[geo]ASIAN AMERICAN/ASIAN DESCENT;Chandra, Vikram}{$I[tim]1961;Chandra, Vikram}

After three years at St. Xavier’s College in Bombay, India, Vikram Chandra moved to Claremont, California, to attend Pomona College, where he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, won the Dole, Kinney, and King prizes in creative writing, and in 1984 was awarded a B.A., magna cum laude. As an undergraduate, Chandra had completed his first novel, but it was never published. After graduating from Pomona College, Chandra went to The Johns Hopkins University, where he received an M.A. in 1987. He next enrolled in film school at Columbia University and also started a computer programming and consulting firm called Letters and Light.

While he was browsing through the Indian section of the Columbia University library, Chandra chanced upon the autobiography of Colonel James “Sikander” Skinner, originally written in Urdu. Within a few months, Chandra had to admit to himself that he was more interested in the issues raised by Skinner’s story than in the film he was making. He dropped out of film school, planning to write a novel that would combine Hindu mythology and such postcolonial issues as alienation and the conflict of cultures with what he thought of as the mythology of America. He had his ideas so firmly in mind that he thought he could complete his book within a fairly short time.

Chandra then moved to Houston, took a position as adjunct professor at the University of Houston, and enrolled in the university’s M.F.A. program, studying with the highly respected writer and writing teacher Donald Barthelme. In 1991, Chandra received a writing grant from the Cultural Arts Council of Houston. However, his novel was still unfinished when Chandra completed his degree program in 1992, though his short stories were being accepted by such prestigious magazines as The New Yorker, which published “Shakti” in 1994, and The Paris Review, where “Dharma” appeared that same year, winning its author a Discovery Prize.

In 1994, Chandra relocated to Washington, D.C., and became a visiting writer at George Washington University. When Red Earth and Pouring Rain finally appeared in 1995, it won high praise from reviewers and was a popular success. In 1995, it was awarded the Book Trust’s David Higham Prize in Fiction, and in 1996, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book.

Although he had put down roots in the United States, Chandra spent much of his time in Bombay, which he considered his second home. In 1996, a series of teleplays he had written were produced there, and his second book was set there. In fact, the original title of this work, “Tale of Love and Longing,” was changed to Love and Longing in Bombay. The volume consists of five short stories, including “Shakti” and “Dharma,” all told by an elderly and unwell retired bureaucrat, who is only too aware of how little time he has left. Again, most critics were enthusiastic, and Love and Longing in Bombay received the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book of the Year (Eurasia region).

With his first two books, one complex in structure and baroque in style, the other simpler and more realistic, Vikram Chandra established himself as one of the most promising young Indians writing in English. Though such expatriates may pay a price for choosing to live in an alien society and to write in a language tainted by the colonial past, their comprehension of both the past and the present, the old world and the new, makes them valuable ambassadors between the two cultures they have come to understand so well.

BibliographyAgarwal, Ramlal. Review of Love and Longing in Bombay, by Vikram Chandra. World Literature Today 72, no. 1 (Winter, 1998): 206-207. Admires Chandra’s choice of narrator and the ironic implications of the titles he has chosen. However, there are too many plot complications in each story for there to be the kind of resolution the genre demands.Carlson, Ron. “The Monkey’s Tale: A Multilayered Novel of America, England, and (Especially) India.” The New York Times Book Review, September 10, 1995, p. 38. One of the clearest explanations of exactly how the various elements in Red Earth and Pouring Rain are fitted together and how the structure of the novel is related to its major themes.Chaudhuri, Amit. “Gods, Monkeys, and Englishmen.” The Times Literary Supplement 4809 (June 2, 1995): 20. A major Indian novelist applauds Chandra’s juxtaposition of the traditional tall tale and actual historical and political events. However, he insists that Red Earth and Pouring Rain suffers because the author pays too little attention to detail but merely generalizes, like a sloppy filmmaker in Bombay or Hollywood, a habit that somehow makes Chandra a postmodern writer.Hussein, Aamer. “Bombay Music.” The Times Literary Supplement 4904 (March 28, 1997): 21. A point-by-point comparison, intended to demonstrate that in Love and Longing in Bombay, the author remedied all the flaws of Red Earth and Pouring Rain.Hussein, Aamer. Review of Red Earth and Pouring Rain, by Vikram Chandra. New Statesman & Society 8, no. 357 (June 16, 1995): 39. Admits that the theme of colonialism is well developed in the novel but argues that the author did not fully use his mythological sources.Tharoor, Shashi. “The New India: Stories Told to the Narrator in a Bombay Bar.” The New York Times Book Review, May 18, 1997, p. 32. A favorable review of Love and Longing in Bombay by another well-known Indian who writes in English. His comments on the new generation of writers and on the disappearing language and lifestyle of Bombay are especially interesting.
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