Vikram Chandra was born in New Delhi in 1961. He is from a family where writing and Indian film in particular are a real influence; his mother wrote screenplays and dramas, his sisters work as a director and as a film critic. After leaving school, while Chandra was venturing into science fiction, he took a few film courses at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, studied English (with a focus on Creative Writing) at Pomona College, and eventually embarked on studies at the film school of New York’s Columbia University. It was in the library there that he came across the autobiography of the nineteenth-century Anglo-Indian colonel James »Sikander« Skinner. The book became the template for Chandra’s first novel which was the motivation for continuing his education through writing courses at John Hopkins University and at the University of Houston, where he studied under the legendary post modern writers John Barth and Donald Barthelme. After a six years gestation period, during which time Chandra himself taught Creative Writing and worked in computer programming, »Red Earth and Pouring Rain« (1995) was published. In this epic novel a connection is made between nineteenth-century India and modern America through various interwoven narrative layers. The framework resembles the structuring principle of »The Tales of 1001 Nights«: by telling stories a monkey with a typewriter – a reincarnation of the Indian poet Sanjay Parasher – keeps the messenger of death, Yama, from carrying out his terrible mission. A young Indian assists him by giving an account of life as a student in America. Thus, in the kaleidoscope of brave men and beautiful women, of heroic feelings and grim battles eastern past mingles with western present.
The narrative in the short stories of the next volume, »Love and Longing in Bombay« (1997), is similarly structured. A retired civil servant tells five stories in a harbour bar, all of which abide by central concepts in Hindu philosophy. The piece »Dharma« is a ghost story included in the anthology »Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror« (1998). The author takes up the central character from another short story, a criminal officer with Sikh roots, in his most recent novel, »Sacred Games« (2006). A monumental work, set against the backdrop of Bombay’s underworld, it is to be published in two parts in Germany.
Chandra, who has also written scripts for Bollywood films such as »Mission Kashmir« (2000), was mentioned by »The New Yorker« as one of India’s leading writers as early as 1997. He has been awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book and the David Higham Prize for Fiction, among others. He teaches Creative Writing at the University of California and lives in Berkeley and Mumbai.
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