Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Sacred Games

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Sacred Games

A Novel

by Vikram Chandra

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra X
Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2007, 928 pages
    Jan 2008, 928 pages

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Vikram Chandra was born in 1961 in New Delhi. and completed most of his secondary education at the prestigious Mayo College boarding school in Ajmer, Rajasthan. After a short stay at St. Xavier's College in Mumbai, he came to the United States as an undergraduate student. In 1984, he graduated from Pomona College (in Claremont, near Los Angeles) with a magna cum laude BA in English, with a concentration in creative writing. He then attended the Film School at Columbia University in New York.

While in the Columbia library he happened upon the autobiography of Colonel James "Sikander" Skinner, a legendary nineteenth century soldier, born of an Indian mother and a British father. This book inspired him to write his first novel Red Earth and Pouring Rain, most of which was written while he attended writing programs at John Hopkins University and the University of Houston (having dropped out of film school early) from where he earned an MA and MFA respectively.

Red Earth and Pouring Rain was published in 1995 in India, the UK and USA, and was received very well. In 1997 he published a collection of short stories, Love and Longing in Bombay, which won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Eurasia region); was short-listed for the Guardian Fiction Prize; and was included in a number of "notable books of the year" lists.

Sacred Games was published in hardcover in India and the UK in 2006, and in the USA in early 2007. To date, Chandra's work has been translated into eleven languages. He is also the co-writer of the Bollywood movie Mission Kashmir, released in late October 2000, and has been a news anchor on Indian TV, and a computer programmer and consultant.

Chandra's mother, Kamna Chandra, has written several Hindi films and has also written plays for All India Radio. One of his sisters, Tanuja Chandra, is a director and screenwriter. His other sister, Anupama Chopra, is a film critic and senior correspondent for India Today and the author of a number of books about the Indian film industry. Vikram's father, Navin Chandra, is a retired executive.

Chandra married Melanie Abrams in late 2005. They divide their time between Mumbai and Berkeley, California, where they both teach creative writing at the University of California at Berkeley.

A Short History of Mumbai (Bombay)
The port city of Mumbai, on the West coast of India, originally consisted of a series of islands which are now joined together through reclamation. Although the area had been inhabited for many thousands of years and had been an important trading port and a center for Hindu and Buddhist culture, the city as we know it today was founded by the Portuguese around 1535 (who named it Bom Bahia, "Good Bay"). The land fell into Portuguese hands when the Sultan of Gujarat was forced to conclude a deal with them to help him defend his territory against the expanding Mughal Empire.

Bombay was ceded to Charles II of Britain in the late 17th century as part of the dowry of the Portuguese Princess Catherine de Braganza, and was promptly leased to the British East India Company* for 10 pounds in gold each year. The British East India Company undertook substantial reclamation projects to develop the modern city of Bombay and, during the 19th century, Bombay became, and continues to be, an important center of international commerce, industry and culture, despite its chronic overcrowding (a population exceeding 15 million), high crime rates and pollution.

In 1995 its name was officially changed to Mumbai (the name that had always been used by Marathi and Gujarati speakers, whereas Hindu-speakers refer to it as Bambai). Other Indian cities that have been renamed since India gained independence from Britain in the 1940s include Chennai (formerly Madras), Kolkata (formerly Culcutta) and Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore).

*The British East India Company came into being in 1599 when Elizabeth I granted the company a 21-year monopoly on trade in the East Indies, an area encompassing India and most of South-East Asia, which the Company quickly consolidated into a commercial trading venture that virtually ruled India until 1858 when it was dissolved.

This article was originally published in January 2007, and has been updated for the January 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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