Vikram Sampath is one of the most famous Indian authors and historians. He is popularly known for his books. He is also a curator and musician. Some of the books that earned him acclaim are Wadiyar Dynasty (2008), and Gauhar Jaan (2012) which is a biography that depicts the life story of the first classical musician of India. He has also been harshly accused of plagiarism for his other biography of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, which brought bad fame to his name.
Vikram Sampath was born in Bangalore, Karnataka, India. He did his schooling at the Sri Aurobindo Memorial School and Bishop Cotton Boys’ School. When he was 5 years old, his parents decided to train him in Carnatic music and since he belonged to a rich family, his parents were able to afford Jayanthi Kumaresh and Bombay Jayashri as his music teachers.
He completed his graduation with a degree in electronics engineering and post-graduation with a master’s in mathematics from BITS Pilani. Even though he had all the luxuries in life, he still wanted to follow his passion for writing. His professors wanted him to do PhD in Topology, but Vikram planned something else for himself. He went on to pursue an MBA degree in finance from the S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research.
Parents & Siblings
Vikram belongs to a wealthy Tamil Hindu family from Bangalore. His father was a banker and his late mother was a Marathi homemaker.
For 8 months, Vikram worked at GE Capital in Gurgaon in 2005 then he joined Citibank in Bangalore and worked till 2008. Till July of 2013, he continued working as a financial analyst at Hewlett-Packard (popularly known as HP). He kept his desire to become an author on hold till he received the scholarship for a PhD in ethnomusicology from the School of Music at Queensland University, Australia. He left his job and went to Australia to fulfil his dream.
Vikram is renowned for his biographies and history-related books. His prominent books are as follows:
- In 2008, he published his first book named ‘Wadiyar Dynasty’, which was based on the history of the Wadiyar Dynasty of Mysore. He wanted to write about it when he watched the Indian historical drama ‘The Sword of Tipu Sultan’ and came across the insulting depiction of the Wadiyars in the show. His deep and complex research before writing this book was one of the qualities that made the book very famous and impressive. Arun Shourie and Ramachandra Guha were his claimed inspiration but he did not write the book with the outlook of a historian. People had good reviews about the book. Some said that it was a page-turner keeping in mind how many years he has spent making the book to be released at its best while some praised him for dominating the other works that were done in a similar context.
- His second book was a biography that was based on the life story of Gauhar khan dancer and singer from Kolkata, who was the first classical musician from India to record on the gramophone, which was published in 2012. To research vividly and know more about the singer, he arranged a trust with the help of funding from T.V. Mohandas Pai to digitize vintage gramophone recordings. The book earned both positive and negative reviews, such as Citations were not enough but the book made a huge contribution to traditional Indian music and gave Gauhar Jaan the identity that she deserved.
- In 2013, he published his third book under Rupa publications which portrays the history of Padma Bhushan awardee Sundaram Balachander, who was a famous Indian veena player and filmmaker. When people got to know about the book, Vikram had to face lots of hatred but he did not stop writing the book. According to him, S. Balachander was a notorious genius. S. Balachander’s family helped Vikram a lot in mentioning every minute detail. T.M.Krishna, who is an Indian Carnatic vocalist, author and activist reviewed the work to be captivating, elaborate and depicted Balachander’s life’s different phases in a sparse manner. Others reviewed that book contains a well-researched and detailed portrayal of the Carnatic music artist.
- Biography of V.D. Savarkar was the fourth book released by Vikram. The book was published in two parts by Penguin Books, the first part was released in 2019 and the second one in 2021. For him, the inspiration behind writing the book was to write a detailed biography as a tribute to the deserving Indian Politician, Activist and writer as earlier there was less detailed information available about him and his presence in Indian politics. This book of his faced both appreciation and criticism. A professor at the Gothenburg University, Swati Parashar said that everyone must read the book, on the other hand, an associate professor of Indian history at the University of California, Janaki Bakhle stated that it lacked updates regardless of the subtle and extensive research.
On 11 February 2022, Audrey Truschke, Rohit Chopra and Ananya Chakravarti wrote a letter to the president of the Royal Historical Society denouncing Vikram for plagiarism and requesting that his membership and scholarship should be taken into reconsideration. He was convicted of paraphrasing from the creations of Vinayak Chaturvedi and Janaki Bakhle for his fourth book on V.D. Savarkar. He was even accused of almost copying one paragraph from an undergraduate student thesis and not citing others’ work appropriately. Both Vinayak and Janaki were disgusted by his actions that were not worthy of praise. They wanted him to apologise for his mistake and take back the publication of his book.
Vikram clearly denied all the charges against him and he even prosecuted a defamation suit demanding the expense of Rs 2 Crore ($269,000) in the Delhi High Court. He stated that because of a common source, the biography paragraph was quite similar. To which other authors replied that it was unprofessional to refer to a publication to freely reproduce content. A restraining order was issued by the court on the first hearing to prevent Audrey Truschke and others to release any slanderous article or letter. Violating the order, several tweets were posted that were later on asked to be removed.
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- Yuva Puraskar in English Literature for ‘Gauhar Khan’ by Sahitya Akademi, India
- Excellence in Historical Research Award by Association for Recorded Sound Collections
- He was chosen as a fellow at the Royal Historical Society.
- Vikram received a visiting fellowship from Berlin Institute for Advanced Study.
- He is the founder-director of the Bangalore Lit Fest and ZEE Group’s ARTH: A Culture Fest.
- Vikram has been a former senior fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.
- In 2014, Vikram was chosen to be the Executive Director of the Bangalore regional centre of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.
- Vikram is an animal lover and has a pet dog named Leo.
Feeding these lovely animals after an elaborate #Navratri puja was blissful. Compassion to all beings is the greatest religion one can aspire for! pic.twitter.com/YOhEQjeIX1
— Dr. Vikram Sampath, FRHistS (@vikramsampath) April 5, 2022
- He likes to take strolls on the beach and watch the sunsets.