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I knew so much about Bhopal that it would kill the fiction, so I created a city called Khaufpur and imagined it in great detail, using Nabokov's technique of mapping the fictional ground. So real did Khaufpur become for me that, after the writing was done, I visited Bhopal and found things not at all as I remembered — then realised that I was back in the real world. Khaufpur shares things with, but is not, Bhopal. Someone on the Booker forum has put it well: the novel is not 'about' the Bhopal disaster or even the Khaufpur disaster, it is about people struggling to lead ordinary lives in the shadow of catastrophe.


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Khaufpur is every place in which people have been poisoned and then abandoned. I did toy with the idea of setting the novel in a Brazilian favela, or a contaminated city in West Africa, but opted to stay in India , mainly because by this time Animal was talking to me incessantly, and with a strong Khaufpuri accent. The first thing the wretched youth said was that I had no right to write about the poor.

No Blood, No Foul

Had I ever been hungry, slept rough, or shat communally beside a railway track? You are rich, Animal said, the rich are condemned to shit alone. He threatened to denounce me to my agent and publisher I got him an email account for the purpose, animal khaufpur. He was always slagging me off, but also made me laugh. I was appalled by his language, was certain it would lose me readers, but one cannot censor one's characters, one has a duty to allow them to be as they are.

This was a kid from the gutter, his vile argot and foul tongue were not 'unnecessary', as some complain, they were necessary for no other reason than that is exactly how I heard him speak. The novel took five years to write, two of which were consumed by doing campaign work for the Bhopalis. I had a brilliant editor, Ben Ball, who questioned everything, and encouraged me to rewrite as often as it took.

I did twelve drafts.

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My favourite writing time was early in the morning, before sunrise, until about eleven. We were living in a 15th century farmhouse in a lovely valley just outside Mayfield.

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