Interview 15- Tishani Doshi

 Interview 15: Tishani Doshi

 

‘The question of biography is endlessly fascinating for readers and endlessly irritating for writers, mostly because I think it implies a lack of imagination. If you admit that you draw from life then it’s thought of as kind of lazy—What? You didn’t make anything up? As if it’s some kind of cut and paste job. Whereas anyone who’s ever written knows that writers are constantly taking from life, theirs or other people’s, and there’s a process during the writing when that gets transformed into something else, and that transformation is the most interesting part of writing. My paternal grandmother died when I was quite young, and as far as I know she never ate a potato in her life. I’m not sure if it’s true, but does it really matter? The poem is its own truth. It goes beyond my grandmother and lands in an entirely different place.’

published by Desi Writer’s Lounge. Read here

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(Author photo credit: Peter Åkesson)

Tishani doshi is the author of five books of fiction & poetry. At 26 an encounter with the choreographer Chandralekha led her to an unexpected career in dance. In 2006, her first book of poems, Countries of the Body, won the Forward Prize for best first collection. She is also the recipient of an Eric Gregory Award & winner of the All-India Poetry competition. GIRLS ARE COMING OUT OF THE WOODS, is her third full-length collection. She lives on a beach in Tamil Nadu. www.tishanidoshi.com

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Interview 14- Chandramohan S.

Interview 14- Chandramohan S.

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Chandramohan S. is an Indian English Dalit poet and literary critic based in Trivandrum, Kerala. He is part of the P.K. Rosi Foundation, a cultural collective (named after the legendary, pioneering Dalit actress) that seeks to de-marginalize Dalit-Bahujans. His poems were shortlisted for Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize 2016. His second collection of poems is titled “Letters to Namdeo Dhasal” is just published. A few of his poems have been used at many protest in addition to being  anthologized in LAND: An Anthology of Indo-Australian Poetry (edited by Rob Harle) and 40 poets under 40 (edited by Nabina Das and Semeen Ali). He was instrumental in organizing literary meets of English poets of Kerala for the Ayyappa Panicker Foundation and for Kritya Poetry festival.


This interview was conducted by e-mail. Chandramohan’s latest book ‘Letter’s to Namdeo Dhasal’ is out. Here we discuss his poem ‘The Immigrant Experience’ from the book primarily. 


 

The Immigrant Experience

The immigrant word in a poem

Sounds like “Prufrock”,

To be as conspicuous

As a fly in buttermilk.

The immigrant word in a poem

Is accompanied with a footnote

Like a GPS tag

On the ankles of the poems

The immigrant word in a poem

Is the paper boat on the

High tide of strife

Washed ashore like the corpse of a toddler.

The immigrant word in a poem

Is locked up in a solitary confinement

In the prison of syntax.

The immigrant word in a poem

is a dysfunctional mating call

Tethered to a stable of phonetics

The immigrant word in a poem

is in the dock

for outraging the modesty of a poetic form

The immigrant word in a poem

Is entombed on a desecrated tombstone

at a war memorial.

 


(i)                 What inspired you to write on the ‘immigrant’ theme?

CS: I think the notion of syntax of poetry becoming a prison for an experimental poet struck me as an interesting notion. This poem sprouted  from it.. Also the image of toddler washed ashore had haunted me just like many others. To use language tropes to describe worldly scenarios fascinated me. Hence this poem.

 


(ii)               I found these lines the most captivating:

The immigrant word in a poem

Is accompanied with a footnote

Like a GPS tag

On the ankles of the poems

 –

Why do you think writers choose to have footnotes at the end of poems as explanations even amidst the existence of Google (You do it in the first poem)?

CS: Footnotes are meant to ameliorate cultural differences. The poet fears that his reader may misunderstand him and hence the compulsive need for a footnote. Observe that this is more prevalent in translated poems. This GPS tag on the ankles of a poem was inspired from a real life event where a US university had closed down and the erstwhile students had a GPS tag on them to prevent them from escaping or falling off the radar of the emigration dept or so. Secondly a simile linking “footnote”  and “GPS tag on the ankles” of a poem bring a smile to my face.

 


 (iii)      In this poem, you have captured the contemporary meaning of ‘immigrant’ with references made to the Syrian toddler, overseas couple calls and more. Any comments?

CS: Yes. Definitely. I was happy I could capture the situation with these lines.

The immigrant word in a poem

Is the paper boat on the

High tide of strife

Washed ashore like the corpse of a toddler.

Geographical as well cultural dislocation has been amply documented in poems of Meena Alexander to name one of the many.


 (iv)    In your bio I noticed that you identify as a ‘Dalit’ poet just like some writers identify as ‘immigrant’ writers. Why these labels?

CS: These labels signify priority. It is that experiences that characterize such labels have been felt first hand by them or us. Dalit knows the pain of social exclusion and other kinds of trampling on their dignity just that the geographically or culturally dislocated writers speak of the “immigrant experience” . It could interest you that the recent collection of poems by the acclaimed poet Vahni Capildeo is titled “ Measures of Expatriation.”

 


(v)                You have used the repetition technique for emphasis here. Why?

CS: Just like a Dalit individual is under pressure to prove his “merit” , there is a pressure on the immigrant word to rhyme with the rest. This repetitive phrase of “The immigrant word in a poem” could grate on the reader of this poem just like an immigrant word with obscure connotation could irritate people.


 (vi)      The first poem from the collection, you talk about Dalit suicide with Rohit Vemula as case in point in a footnote. Just like the immigrant poem, it is very current. Why this need to sound current and political? Do you think you will be read more if your themes reflect current affairs?

CS: It is not sounding current and political. They “are” current/contemporary and political( everything is political in a way). I do aspire to be read widely even if my poems are not on contemporary themes since some of the issues I raise may transcend literature. Dalit psyche is politicized from time immemorial.


(vii) An excerpt from this poem was included in an article by Nabina Das recently, for Scroll. You have been published in online journals. How do you think online journals make new voices reachable to others?

Yes. Very much. I think social media and online poetry portals have contributed in a big way towards democratizing our discourse. A lot of margin-speak has gone mainstream due to this. The single largest civil rights movement in India could be the Dalit movement for social justice be it Rohith Vemula protest, Una or Jisha murder case. Our voices are getting heard . Recently Cordite Poetry Review based in Australia had hosted a collection of Dalit and Tribal writers from India.


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Thank you!

Interview 13- Rebecca Lloyd

Interview 13- Rebecca Lloyd

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Rebecca Lloyd writes short stories, novellas and novels. Her story collection Mercy, nominated for a World Fantasy Award, was published by Tartarus Press in 2014 alongside The View from Endless Street, a collection with WiDo Publishing. Her recent publications include Ragman and Other Family Curses (Egaeus Press) and Jack Werrett, the Flood Man (Dunhams Manor Press). She was short-listed for the Aestas short story prize 2016 with Fabula Press for her story The Ringers, her novel, Oothangbart, was published in October 2016 by Pillar International Publishing, and her novella Woolfy and Scrapo was published by the Fantasist magazine. Her latest collection, Seven Strange Stories, was published by Tartarus Press in 2017. She is presently working on The Child Cephalina, a Gothic horror novel set in 1850.


1- (i) What draws you to the literary horror genre?

Several different things draw me to this genre— firstly I suspect that it is by far the most difficult genre to write well within, and so it’s very challenging, and I like that, because if writing feels too easy, it doesn’t stretch you and you don’t learn anything new. Secondly, I don’t have any interest in lightweight subjects or ideas like romance or comedy, although I am very happy when other people make me laugh! The original writers of Gothic/horror/dark material were writers that I admire, people like Mary Shelley, Walter de la Mare, Henry James and some of the Southern writers such as Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and Caron McCullers. Although these last three are not thought of at all as ‘horror’ writers, some of their works are dark, Gothic and very strange. In truth, I find the word ‘horror’ in connection with writing embarrassing because B movies and modern writers like Stephen King have put their own brand on the idea and we get left with drawers full of hopeless zombies and shape-shifters of various kinds, all of them terrible clichés. [Although Stephen King has had some great story ideas.]


(ii) In one of our discussions, you mentioned that your work is more like Walter de la Mare than Stephen King. Would you please elaborate?

I think I meant that I would rather my work was thought of as being more like that of Walter de la Mare than Stephen King because de la Mare is a literary writer and Stephen King is a popularist one. 


2- I heard of you from Out of Print magazine editor Indira Chandrashekhar’s social media posts about the anthology PANGEA which you co-edited.

How was the experience?

It was great working with Indira on Pangea, we hadn’t met in person at that stage and we communicated and put together the anthology online. I learnt some editing tricks along the way, and I think the experience was useful when I came to work as Debalina Haldar’s editor on her novel The Female Ward.


3- Your story published in Out of Print titled ‘Finger Buffet’ is disturbing and hard-hitting. It is based on an incident you witnessed.

(i)What gave you the courage to write about it and submit it to a magazine?

One of the really good things about being a writer is that when bad things happen to you, you can sometimes exorcise them by making them into a story, so it wasn’t courage I needed to write about the incident, but just writerly instinct. I didn’t write about it straight away however, it took a while, and the police had taken my writer’s notebook because I was the only witness to the crime, so I needed that back before I started the story.

In addition to writerly instinct, I feel it is an absolute human obligation! I spent a lot of time after that visiting their families and consoling their mum and dads.


(ii) Would you call your story fiction or creative non-fiction?

I’d call it fiction because the story is told by a local white East Ender character, and it is his wife who comes across the slaughtered boys. Creative non-fiction tends to stick quite closely to facts, and Finger Buffet doesn’t do that.


4- Do your literary horror stories like in your book ‘Mercy’ that I’m currently reading, draw from the people you have encountered in real life?

No, I don’t particularly think so. Not whole people anyway. Occasionally I might be struck by a particular posture, a way of dressing, a spoken sentence that I come across while I’m out that later on crops up in my writing somewhere, but it doesn’t necessarily happen at a very conscious or contrived level. Although, I have to confess that I once wrote out the entirety of an argument I had with someone, and it worked wonderfully in the story I was writing.


5- Your protagonists in ‘Mercy’ are dysfunctional in their own way posing a potential danger to society. They reminded me of the TV series ‘Criminal Minds’.

Your stories empathise with characters who have a twisted bend of mind and are somehow trapped in it. Any comments?

What I try to do is to write my characters as I see and feel them, and it really is for the reader to empathise or not with them. That’s not to say I am necessarily neutral myself to my characters, but I don’t go out of my way to lay down my personal position in a story, or in a novel. But because in my writing I’m not confined by moral judgements or notions of right or wrong, it probably can appear that I care about my particularly warped characters. But, I should say that I think most living people have warped elements about them, it’s what makes them interesting.


6- Other than the main protagonists I noticed that you pay equal emphasis to the characters who live/interact with such disturbed characters and the impact on them. Any comments?

I don’t ever think in terms of antagonists and protagonists and therefore I probably don’t confine myself to the same kind of writing ‘rules’ that some writers might use. I remember an occasion, a long time ago when one of my characters was a dead man, and the person who was critiquing the work pointed out that I couldn’t have a dead person as a character because he wouldn’t be able to speak … so it wouldn’t be realistic. But that was before the great blanket of vampires, the undead, and zombies came into play in fiction. I think the antagonist/protagonist idea should be booted out too as it is very rigid and restricting… a protagonist can also be the antagonist. I guess that my novel Oothangbart published last year says more about me and my writing than most of my other books put together. The way I feel about fiction is that it really is fiction and a writer can do what he or she wants with it…treat fiction like plasticine and build what you want out of it and ignore other people’s rules . I’m not sure that this answers your question very directly; it might just be simpler to say all characters in a book are important and all have their particular role to play.


7- Have you attempted other genres?

Well, I never particularly wanted to write within a genre in the first place, but I’ll go along with literary horror as an idea… but the part of it that challenges and interests me is the literary, not the horror. The novel I am working on at the moment is set in 1850, and so, theoretically, you could call it an historical novel, and I do make a big effort to do the research needed and get it right. However, the novel is also Gothic, and so like much of my work, it could easily fall between the genres. But not fitting in with other people’s constructs either in real life or writing is fine; it keeps you energetic. 


8- You now have 5 short story collections, 2 novels and anthologies to your credit. What next?

The Gothic novel that I’m working on now, The Child Cephalina. I finished the first draft in two and one half months by writing 1,000 words each morning, and now I have to start the second draft… the tidying up process. However, my last novel Oothangbart, has just come out and of everything I have written, this is special to me and I would love it to be read by youngish people who are having a hard time fitting in with the societies in which they live. I’ve never written a story like it before, and never will again. It’s a story of discovery, and it’s a love story and I really hope it moves people.


9- On your website you talk about the New Dark or New Weird genre that your long short stories fall under. What is this new genre according to you?

For me, the new weird or the new dark simply is an attempt to put the literary back into horror, so that a hybrid evolves, a type of writing that is beautiful in its own right, [no pun intended], is sensitive, original, contains not a single cliché either in sentence use or ideas themselves, has dignity, depth and nuance and so on. Put more simply, I hope it’s going to produce some stunning writing, and the one or two writers I’d put in that category are already doing so.


10- (i) Tell us about your new book ‘Seven strange stories by Tartarus Press 2017.

These seven long stories are my last year’s work. This time, I was attempting to write into the horror/fantasy genre deliberately, rather than it simply being where my writing best fits anyway. I particularly wanted Tartarus Press to publish these stories, as I admire Tartarus greatly, the care they take, the beauty of the books they produce, their taste in writers and their knowledge of the world of books. It was very pleasing to be writing long short stories as opposed to highly edited very short ones, and yet which did not quite have the burden and responsibility that undertaking a novel has. It also made a lot of sense of a holiday I went on in Sicily, as one of the stories was inspired by my trip there. Seven Strange Stories is now published, and available from Tartarus Press, or in bookshops.


(ii) You have been published before by Tartarus Press. What is your view on small niche presses as opposed to big publishing houses?

Well, there are two paths you can travel down as a writer looking for publication, and both have their dangers and disappointments. I don’t really have an opinion as such on independent presses and the conglomerates, but I do know quite a lot about both —my novel ‘Halfling’ was published by Walker Books, one of the giants in the publishing world. The onus is upon the writer to thoroughly research any publishing house that they are interested in, and you very quickly come to know which are the vanity publishers; sometimes you only have to glance at their websites to see that they are fake. This is quite a detailed subject and a complex one, but in general, the large publishing houses, whose names everyone recognises, have good distribution for their books and sometimes, good promotion of their different titles. Trouble is, on the whole, you need an agent to get you into one of the big houses, and with a few exceptions, agents are interested not in literature or books, but money, and they will treat your book merely as a commodity and then want 15% of your royalties. If you opted instead for an independent publisher, you might find that there was scant promotion of your book and very poor distribution. On the other hand a good and established independent press might have excellent distribution and promotion and a workable business model, they might pay you individual attention in a manner that the large houses aren’t famous for doing, and they could even have decent book jackets! So, in the end, I don’t have a view on small as opposed to big publishing houses, but I do wish other writers all the best in their quest to find one they feel comfortable with.


11- On a different note, I love your hair. Haha. It looks like fairy hair. What’s the secret?

The secret is being old, or am I really Gandalf’s sister? She’d be ancient anyway.


 

Thank you!

Thank you for the interview, Michelle, and the interesting questions.


 

Buy her books on AMAZON- 

Seven Strange Stories

Mercy

Oothangbart


 

Interview 12- Deepti Kapoor

Interview 12- Deepti Kapoor

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This interview was conducted by e-mail. It is about Deepti Kapoor’s novel A Bad Character, first published by Penguin Random House, 2014.

Summary of the novel (from Goodreads)

A highly charged fiction debut about a young woman in India, and the love that both shatters and transforms her. She is twenty, restless in New Delhi. Her mother has died; her father has left for Singapore. He is a few years older, just back to India from New York. When they meet in a café one afternoon, she—lonely, hungry for experience, yearning to break free of tradition—casts aside her fears and throws herself headlong into a love affair, one that takes her where she has never been before. Told in a voice at once gritty and lyrical, mournful and frank, A Bad Character marks the arrival of an astonishingly gifted new writer. It is an unforgettable hymn to a dangerous, exhilarating city, and a portrait of desire and its consequences as timeless as it is universal.

Read the interview in The Bombay Literary Magazine‘s latest issue.


Interview 11- Tejaswini Apte-Rahm

Interview 11- Tejaswini Apte-Rahm

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Tejaswini Apte-Rahm is the author of the short story collection These Circuses That Sweep Through the Landscape published by Aleph Book Company in December 2016. She is a full-time writer from Mumbai. Her short stories have been published in Himal Southasian (Nepal), BLink (Hindu Business Line, India) The Big Chilli (Thailand), Six Seasons Review (Bangladesh) and The Daily Star (Bangladesh), as well as in Monsoon Midnights, an e-book anthology of stories about Bangkok. Tejaswini worked as an environmental researcher for ten years, during which time she wrote two non-fiction books. She was also a journalist in Mumbai, and has written on cinema, photography and environmental issues for Screen, The Times of India, Hindustan Times and The Asian Age. She studied at the JB Petit High School for Girls (Mumbai), the United World College of South-East Asia (Singapore), the University of Sussex and the University of Kent (England). Tejaswini has lived in Serbia, Israel, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh, spending a year or two in each country with her husband and daughter. Currently she lives in Azerbaijan.


Hello Tejaswini,

I read your story ‘Sandalwood‘ in BL ink and loved it. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It will be about your story, the craft of writing and other things literary.

  • The story is about abandonment. In stories that I have read on the same theme, usually the person being abandoned stays and the abandoner leaves. The abandoned (like in Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment) is supposed to learn to live with what they always had with only a small yet major change.

(i)Why do you snatch away this whole world of familiarity for our protagonist?

(ii) Will it make her cope better in the long run?

TA: The genesis of the story was the idea that someone can be in your house, and use your house on a regular basis, without your knowing it. I found that a creepy, fascinating thought, and I started to think of ways that someone might do that, and how they might cover up their trail to hide the fact that they have been there. A great dynamic to explore, I felt, would be an abandoned housewife secretly visiting her former home, because she could think of no other way to spend her empty days. The idea was for her to re-enter her comfort zone, though the comfort is now simply an illusion. So it was absolutely necessary for this scenario, that she be dragged out of her world of domesticity.


  • There is a sense of voyeurism in the story. As I came to care for the protagonist I realized I did not feel she is wrong in this context. She was the victim here. She was only trying to cope. (Others may see it differently, like it was all her making and she must not play the victim. Free will, boundaries etc.)

I feel when someone undergoes a crisis only they themselves can feel the pain and the way they deal with it, well, who are we to judge? This reminds me of the protagonist T in Neon Noon by Tanuj Solanki who goes to Pattaya after a heartbreak. What do you have to say about this?

TA: I think the sense of voyeurism is what makes the story work, because it creates a creepiness. She is an invisible voyeur, observing her family by being in their midst without them knowing it. And meanwhile, we are watching her watch her family. As far as her being a victim is concerned – yes, of course she is a victim. The most shocking part of the story for me is how easily her children accept her abandonment. But it is equally apparent that she has also disempowered herself over the years, and created the conditions whereby she is so easily turned into a victim.


  • What do you think of BL ink’s special fiction issue and how does it help emerging writers to be noticed?

TA: I thought it was a great idea. There are very limited avenues for short story writers to be published in India. You can try to get your work into a literary journal, but the readership remains relatively limited. So for a mainstream newspaper to carry contemporary short fiction is brilliant. I don’t know why newspapers and magazines don’t do so regularly. Surely their readers also enjoy being introduced to the work of new writers. The DNA short story contest is a great initiative, for example.


  • Can you tell us about how your short story collection was published by Aleph. Does it have a theme? I have heard that unthemed collections are tougher to place with mainstream literary publishers.

TA: I had sent my short story collection to three different publishers. I had a very quick response from Aleph Book Company, within a few days, saying that they wanted to publish it. Needless to say I was thrilled because Aleph is one of the top publishers of literary fiction and non-fiction in India, with a small, selective list of authors.

When I wrote the stories I did not have any theme in mind. But when I looked at it as a collection, I realized that the stories were rather dark and twisty, often with a dangerous edge to them. I think that is what binds the collection together. As a writer I would not worry about not having a theme to a collection of stories – the main thing is to write honestly and from deep within, even if that means facing uncomfortable truths about yourself. In the end it is the writer’s unique sensibility that will bind a collection together.


  • How do you go about constructing a story?

TA: Each story has a different origin. It might be a fragment of an overheard conversation, or an image in a magazine, or just a creepy idea that enters my head and won’t go away – like the idea of someone using your house without your knowing it. For example, the idea for my story Drinks at Seven came from a scene I witnessed in Delhi many years ago – a well-dressed man was standing on the road next to his car and shouting into his phone in the most vile manner, at his wife or girlfriend. It made me wonder what social circumstances this couple might find themselves in, what kind of nastiness their normal life might hide, and why his wife would tolerate that kind of shouting. That man appears in Drinks at Seven right down to his physical description – but transported to the setting of a classy drawing room.


  • (i) I think this story defies gender norms because here Chandan/Sandalwood is a man and when the protagonist is replaced by a man the conflict is heightened because he can do everything that the protagonist thought only a woman could do that she could do. She had limited herself to do all that and she had thought it was enough to keep her position stable in the family. But the cruel reality she faces is that it is not so. Any comments?

Also, why did you choose to include a man and not a woman as the ‘other’ person here?

TA: The only reason that the husband’s new lover is a man, is because the dynamic would have been completely different if it had been a woman. The over-riding dynamic would have been one of sexual jealousy of ‘the other woman’. But in this case, since her husband is homosexual, there is no question of sexual jealousy – the wife has been completely knocked out of the running. This suited me perfectly because I was not interested in exploring the theme of jealousy. Secretly entering the house of ‘the other woman’ would have led to a very different story, with a different ending, and characters with very different motivations. From the point of view of the children too, accepting a new mother would have created a totally different dynamic to the relationships within the family.


  • That is, till I discovered that I still had the keys to the house buried in my purse.

This line reminded me of Raymond Carver’s story ‘Neighbours’.  In the story ‘A couple had the key to their neighbours’ flat and whenever their neighbours went on vacations they would entrust them with the keys to the house. This couple who was left  behind would find that they spent too much time in that house to get a taste of their neighbours’ life and when they realize that they might not be able to go into the house again. They get panicked.

I saw this panic at the end of your story too. Any comments?

TA: Yes, there is panic at the end of the story when she realizes she has been found out – but also there is humiliation – and a decision that she needs to make. She has this strange invitation from her husband’s lover to return as often as she wishes, secretly, as long as she does not cook and does not interact with anyone. Is she going to accept? If the answer is yes, it would mean accepting a strange kind of twilight existence where she is present and yet invisible. And if the answer is no, it would mean looking into the abyss of an empty life – and trying to find the strength to create something new out of that darkness.


  • Favourite short story writers?

My favourite writers of short fiction are Roald Dahl (for his adult short stories) and Doris Lessing. Both use language with the precision of a knife edge to get to the dark heart of their characters. Dahl is deliciously ruthless in the way he does this. And Lessing is not afraid to look deeply uncomfortable truths in the eye.


  • Your story also reminded me of the Bollywood film English Vinglish– the theme of the unappreciated housewife who discovers herself later in life. In your story, the spouse of the housewife feels he has discovered himself. Any comments?

TA: Yes, her husband does discover himself. But that is not the theme of my story. I don’t explore the struggle he may have gone through to arrive at the conclusion that he is homosexual – which is not to be dismissive of it – but he has already discovered his homosexuality long before my story begins. My focus is the selfish and pitiless way in which he constructs a new life for himself. Instead of treating his wife with compassion and care through their separation, he stacks the cards against her.


  • The story is set in London. I was thinking of how geography and law plays a huge role in this story. It would have been different had the story been set in India. Any comments?

TA: There would be no way for this particular story to be set in India. For the simple reason that in India there are people everywhere – a scenario in which a woman regularly enters her previous home, unnoticed by anyone, would be impossible.


  • As the sub- theme of the story is also sexual orientation, I was also reminded of the film The Danish Girl. In the movie, the wife stays strong like a rock and supports her partner in his journey of transformation. We got to see her unconditional love for her partner but we didn’t get to see her struggle at all.

Your story shows the spouse in focus. Her struggle and again in this context I came to ponder on how time, geography, and legislation affects relationships. What do you think?

TA: I think the passing of time is certainly a focal point of the wife’s struggle. She has let 17 years go by without doing anything to carve out a position of strength or independent identity for herself. Her identity is inextricable from her children and husband. She thinks it is time well-spent – till it turns out that it was in fact time wasted. That is a large part of the horror of the story – there is a chilling finality to the loss of time – it can never be regained.

All too often I’ve seen situations where the wife, even if well educated, slides into a shadow of her former self, content with having no independent identity other than as a mother or wife – leaving her in an incredibly vulnerable position, both psychologically as well as financially. When this situation is transferred to a different country, where the traditional networks and support systems of India are not available to a woman, the vulnerability increases. I don’t mean to say that such marriages are always unhappy or exploitative – but it is equally true that a woman’s lack of independence and empowerment becomes an integral part of the dynamics of a marriage.


  • You have had book signings in colleges in Mumbai.

(i)How important are such events for new writers?

(ii) In your interaction with young students, did you gauge their awareness of Indian contemporary fiction? Do they read literary writers?

TA: Interacting with college students was one of the best experiences of my book promotion. There was always a really good vibe in the room, and the students were enthusiastic and engaged in the discussions. Many were aspiring writers. I didn’t get a chance to gauge awareness of Indian contemporary fiction among them, but I would assume they are very well read, given their participation.

For me these events were a validation that the stories in These Circuses That Sweep Through the Landscape are of interest, and can generate extensive discussion. Connecting with readers is rare for an author – you spend months and years hunched over your desk, so to finally go out and get direct feedback from people is like a tonic. And it gives you a psychological boost to embark on your next writing project.


  • Did you intend this as an empowerment story? A ‘read-between-the-lines’ message to women to make something of themselves as opposed to just being a family woman so as to deal better with contingencies such as the one in your story?

TA: No, that was not the intention. Of course, my own opinions will inform my writing – in this case, a frustration at the fact that women often end up disempowering themselves. But writing fiction with a moral or social message in mind never works. Nobody likes to be preached at. My only aim is to make the story as entertaining and thought-provoking as possible. If Sandalwood creeped you out, and kept you hooked up to the end, then I have achieved my aim.


  • Do you have a background in literature?

TA: I did a BA in English Literature and Development Studies from the University of Sussex in the UK. Having a degree in literature is obviously not a requirement for writing fiction, but it certainly helps in terms of introducing you to a wide range of authors and genres, and to different ways of seeing.


  • Advice to young aspiring writers.

TA: My advice is to read and write as much as possible. Develop a writing schedule – don’t write only when you feel like it. A story or novel will not come gushing out of you just because you feel inspired – the inspiration has to be harnessed to discipline and writing techniques, which can only come through writing practice and wide reading. You have to be prepared to throw away what you’ve written and start again. This is essential for experimenting with creative decisions such as what narrative voice to use, or even what genre to write in.


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Buy her short story collection  on Amazon


 

Interview 10- Anjum Hasan

Interview 10- Anjum Hasan

 

Anjum Hasan Publicty Still 01

Anjum Hasan is the author of the novels The Cosmopolitans, Neti, Neti and Lunatic in my Head, and the short story collection Difficult Pleasures. She has also published a book of poems called Street on the Hill. Her books have been nominated for various awards including the Man Asian Literary Prize, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, the Hindu Best Fiction Award and the Crossword Fiction Award. She was the Charles Wallace Writer-in-Residence at the University of Canterbury. Her short stories, essays and poems are widely published including in Granta and Griffith Review, as well as in Five Dials, Wasafiri, Drawbridge, Los Angeles Review of Books, Asia Literary Review, Caravan and anthologies such as A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces: Extraordinary Short Stories from the 19th Century to the Present and The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets. Anjum is books editor at The Caravan, India’s leading magazine of long-form reporting and essays. She lives in Bangalore.


Hello Anjum,

It is an honour to interview you.  It is tough to come across a writer as prolific as you. You write Poetry, Fiction (Short stories and novels) and Non-fiction.

I hope this interview will benefit writers who wish to learn from you.

(a) Poetry

I loved this poem of yours and I wish to discuss it a bit.

COMING OF AGE IN A CONVENT SCHOOL by Anjum Hasan

The year is 1985

and Phoebe comes to class wearing a golden wig.

A group of girls walk around school with moles

carefully drawn above their lips in blue ballpoint ink.

They’re in love with Madonna.

This is the year that Sister Carmel, our English teacher,

will refuse to believe that Boy George is not a woman,

the year she will talk animatedly about Live Aid.

This year everyone loves the sex education class

but pretends not to.

Sister Monica shows us a film in the library

about an American teenager whom everybody bullies

because he’s still a virgin.

The point of the film is that he’s a winner nevertheless,

and can’t be cowed down.

Next year Prisca will have a baby

but this year she giggles and squirms like everyone else,

and when the girl I sit with stains her overall,

I’m so utterly envious.

I long to be part of this sisterhood.

This is the year of George Michael’s stubble,

the year of Stevie Wonder jokes.

This is the year I realise that there are only,

only women in the entire school building

and am astonished at the thought.


1-  Is this poem inspired from your life? (You have been asked before in other interviews whether your protagonists are ‘you’ and you have answered: it is you and also not you.) Can you please elaborate?

AH: Delighted you liked the poem. Some of my poetry is definitely autobiographical, my fiction less so. This poem is from my own life – I studied, came of age and was introduced to the idea of sex and the lure of pop music in my convent school. I wanted to bring those things together in the poem the way they were in my experience – the discipline of the convent as well the discoveries one makes as a teenager. And also how the nuns took it upon themselves to educate us about sex in a remarkably frank, almost humorous, way.


2-How do you decide on enjambment in a free verse poem?

AH: It’s based on the breath, one reads the poem out loud and there is a natural break according to the rhythm of one’s breathing when one reads.


3- Why have you structured this poem as 5-5-5-5-5(2+3)?

I’m not sure! It came out that way – the longer initial verses and then the last two shorter ones, closing down on the experience, each beginning with the same “This is the year…” I don’t really believe in analyzing structure too much. It comes instinctively to me when it does and I go with that. Which is not to say I don’t edit and rewrite. But there is something like the intrinsic core of a poem which often just suggests itself.


(b) Fiction

1- I have read your books ‘Neti Neti’, ‘Lunatic in my Head’ and currently reading your short story collection ‘Difficult Pleasures’. I feel your prose attempts to capture the nomadic nature of people in cities in India. Any comments?

AH: Cities can be great, monstrous, impersonal things and I am always interested in the ambivalent relationships people might have with them. There is an alienation even if there might be love for a place. So, yes, I am interested in this slight feeling of rootlessness which is not the result of a major disaster – not war or dictatorship – but still people asking themselves if they really belong to the places they live in? I think in other genres of writing and not just fiction we are asking that question much more in this century.


2- You have judged different contests like Helter Skelter new writing, TOTO fund the arts etc. What do you see in new unpublished writing from India that pleases/displeases you?

AH: I think the hardest thing as a young writer, or maybe as a writer at any age, is describing experience in a way that it is not so abstract so as to seem unhuman but neither is it so personal that it’s of relevance to no one but the author. That’s the fine and difficult balance one has to strike. I’ve learnt the hard way, I’m still learning, that one can sound sophisticated and well-read without having that core experience holding the writing up, and it’s also easy to give in to sentimentalizing. We live in an age where we’re increasingly living similar lives so how do you create a sense of your own uniqueness and that of the world and characters you want to create?


3- (i) What is your take on fiction from other North East Indian writers like Janice Pariat, Kaushik Barua, Jahnavi Barua and others?

AH: I very much like Jahnavi’s work, particularly that first book of stories, and also some of Janice’s stories. I’m afraid I haven’t read Kaushik Barua.


(ii) Do you consciously consider them as competition?

AH: I think for a writer on some days all other writers are competition but on other days you’re writing for yourself and it doesn’t matter. I also don’t consider myself only a North-east writer, however one might define that. I write about Shillong but also about Bangalore, music, art, loneliness, travel, love, children, water problems, servants – life.


(iii) How according to you your fiction differs from theirs?

AH: I think that’s for readers to decide!


( c) Non-fiction

1- I loved your article: Why do people seem so weary with literature? How do we rebuild the alphabet for writing?

On one hand we have new writers who wish to write good fiction and suffer from anxiety of influence, on the other hand we have writers like Ravinder Singh who says he hasn’t read anything before publishing his book.

You mention this about his book:

The young man’s grief at losing his fiancée-to-be is genuine but the novel is not a tragic one. Our man is secure in the choices he makes and it’s just the ugly hand of fate that intrudes. Shit happens is the only conclusion one might draw from the novel in a moral sense. So we encounter pain at a personal loss here but no wrestling with life itself.

Do you think his fans (young readers in India) sense this or even care about the lack of existential crisis in his work even though they might be experiencing it in some way or another every day?

AH: That’s a good question! If our fiction in English provides a mirror of what it is to be Indian then that mirror is showing up a very shrunken image at the moment. There is an obsession with middle-class success in the popular fiction of the moment. We have different phrases with which to dismiss better writing – elite literature, novels of ideas, boring, high-brow – but what we’re really dismissing is the possibility of looking beyond that constricting middle-class paradigm. So, yes, I do think it is limiting that young people might read only Ravinder Singh and Chetan Bhagat growing up. In fact if one looks to literature in the Indian languages the legacy of modernism (including the existential questioning that you refer to) is stronger there. I am thinking of writers such as Geetanjali Shree or Vinod Kumar Shukla in Hindi, for instance.


 

(d) General

1- What is your next book?

AH: It’s a book of short stories which doesn’t have a name at the moment. I’m still working on it.


2- Is your marriage to Zac O’ Yeah(a writer himself) a contributor to your prolific career?

Being married to Zac and being a writer have been very intertwined experiences for me. I think I wanted to be a writer since I was about seven years old. But the daily work of writing, the setting of writerly goals, the enjoyment of and patience with the slog – all of that I learnt from him. And we edit each other’s work which has been great for me.


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