“Writing is like a drug and I have written like an addict, getting my fix from the 800 words that I would generate every day.”


Author of Prey by the Ganges, Hemant Kumar narrates how he wrote (and rewrote) his debut novel, his thoughts on crime writing and writing experience for him. He tells us his favourite crime thriller, and more!

– Shana Susan Ninan

IBR (Shana) – Please introduce yourself to IBR readers – your background, career and published works.

Author Hemant Kumar – I am a journalist. I wasn’t born in Bihar, but I went to school there – from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. I lived in Ranchi and Patna. My parents were both freedom fighters. My father worked for the government and my mother, a home maker, was a singer on the radio. I grew up in Ranchi, now in Jharkhand. The book is set largely in the areas surrounding Ranchi—places like Netarhat, Patna and Shibgunj.

After graduating in Economics from the University of Bombay, I began as a reporter with the Press Trust of India (PTI) in the early 80s. Eight years later, I joined Doordarshan News as a correspondent, covering the elections Live with Prannoy Roy and Vinod Dua. In 1998, I left for the US, to work for a media company. In 2005, I returned to India, and worked for a few television channels, chiefly India TV, as vice president, and News24, as head of one of its verticals. In 2010, I left television, and started editing a magazine for the government of India. Called India Now, it’s a brand India vehicle that goes out to all Indian missions abroad, missions of all foreign nations in India, think tank and policy groups worldwide and to senior government functionaries in India and abroad.

But more importantly, I began writing my book all over again in 2010. All over again, because I had written it once, entirely, in 2006—all 1,50,000 words of it. Then in 2010, I wrote it all over again—all 1,25,000 words.

IBR – How did you coin the title – Prey By The Ganges?

HK – It was easy – the story begins at Ganga’s banks and remains in its vicinity. And it’s a desperate cat-and-mouse chase throughout the fateful night. I have written about the deification of Ganga and how people pray at its banks. The words ‘pray’ and ‘prey’ kept coming to me, over and over and over again. Hence the title Prey By The Ganges.

IBR – How was the writing experience for Prey By The Ganges?

HK – Writing is my calling, Shana. I have always known I am a good writer, but the need to write seriously occurred to me only when I turned 40, I think. I was living in the US at that time. However, the actual writing did not begin until after I had returned to India, in 2006.

Writing the book has been cathartic for me. It has flowed out of me like a hot spring that could not be contained anymore. You may say I have written the book. However, my understanding is that I just sat before the laptop, and an unseen energy, perhaps divine, moved my hands and formed the words and paragraphs and pages and chapters. This is how it felt.

It was frustrating, at times, when I found myself clawing at walls of resistance that kept inspiration hidden away. But I kept hammering away, chipping at the masonry, bit by bit. My friend and the book’s editor, Ruchira, kept my confidence and focus intact with inspirational emails and conversations. This book is the result of lengthy conversations with Ruchira, about each little twist and turn in the story.

Writing is like a drug and I have written like an addict, getting my fix from the 800, or so, words that I would generate every day and toss at Ruchira, to edit. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing Prey By The Ganges, and hope to get into that mental and spiritual zone again, really soon, to start writing my next novel.

IBR – You’ve mentioned in the book’s blurb that you’ve witnessed turmoil at close quarters. How did your real life’s experience help you create the events in your book?

HK – Growing up in Bihar of the 60s and 70s was tumultuous. Bloody communal riots shaped my perceptions of the adult world through most of my early years. That violence was extremely raw – committed with knives and swords and blunt instruments of brute force and pent up aggression. I have seen people being hacked to death, right before my eyes. Later, when I became a reporter, I travelled to cities that were rocked by violence – of every kind, not just communal. And once again, I saw raw violence. The events have left a deep imprint on my consciousness. Writing about them is easy, not celebratory. It’s not a Tarantino obsession with blood and gore. I write about it only when necessary.

IBR – In the Indian scenario, crime and thrillers are best written by men. Do you agree? Any reading/personal experiences that go against this statement?

HK – I don’t look at it like that at all. There are too many good writers in India – women and men. However, each gender sees things in its own fine way. Women are mothers, sisters, daughters. They are presumed to be soft, loving and vulnerable. They are sensitive and kind. Our mindsets disallow us to think of women either as criminals, crime specialists or crime writers, shall I say. But there are numerous policewomen, prosecutors, experts and writers who specialise in crime and crime-fighting.

Having said that, it is also true that crime is said to be the exclusive domain of men- at least its commission. Women participate in crime, but there are more examples of their assisting male crime ring leaders, than leading rings themselves.

Therefore, men have traditionally monopolised crime- commission, fighting, investigation or writing. Also, men seem to, (and mind you, seem to), revel in reading of violence, torture, murder and such things, more than women do.

Men drool over guns and knives and read about blood and gore and fist fights and bludgeoning, with religious fervour. Maybe it is a macho thing, maybe men really do identify with crime, violence and all the rest of it. But it is has somehow evolved that more men than women read and write about crime, violence and such things.

IBR – A crime thriller that you greatly identify with?

HK – The Godfather comes to mind immediately. It has a solid storyline, a strong cast of characters, compelling style and what a weave – what a weave, my goodness. Now, that’s a thriller.

IBR – You have left a thread at the end of the novel for a sequel. Any thought on those lines?

HK – Although Prey By The Ganges is complete in every way, it does leave handles for a sequel. So, yes, there is a sequel, and I am about to start writing it. In fact, I am structuring the story in its chapter, scene and sequence depths.

IBR – That’s good to hear! What advice would you give a debut author, especially in your genre of writing?

HK – Actually, Shana, a debutant is hardly one to give advice – he needs so much himself. But I can share my experience. Whether debut or repeat, a story has to be solid, its characters well developed and developing during the narrative. All this is conventional wisdom – it held true 500 years ago, it still holds true. That said, it is important to be patient and to read a lot. The more you read, and read widely, the more enriched your palette will be. Only then can you paint a canvas that’s both vivid and enchanting.

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Rating: 8.8/10 (4 votes cast)
“Writing is like a drug and I have written like an addict, getting my fix from the 800 words that I would generate every day.”, 8.8 out of 10 based on 4 ratings

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 at 1:27 pm and is filed under Authors, Interview. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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