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


 

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Interview 10- Anjum Hasan

Interview 10- Anjum Hasan

 

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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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10 Contemporary books by Indian male writers which have memorable female characters

In my second article for Women’s Web, I mention 10 books by Indian male writers which have memorable female characters.

When men write about women, women cringe, but what if the female characters in the books are written well with a unique voice and are memorable? In recent fiction in India, men have created female characters who demand their own space in their critically acclaimed books.


 

Interview 9– Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

 

 

Author photo credit: MRINAL KUMAR

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar is the author of the novel, “The Mysterious Ailment Of Rupi Baskey”, which won the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar 2015, jointly won the Muse India-Satish Verma Young Writer Award 2015, was shortlisted for The Hindu Prize 2014 and a Crossword Book Award 2014, and was longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award 2016; a collection of short stories, “The Adivasi Will Not Dance”, which has been recommended for a course at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and was shortlisted for The Hindu Prize 2016; and a number of non-fiction, fiction, and photographs that have been published in The International New York Times, The Indian Express, The Times of India, The Caravan Vantage, The Asian Age, Outlook, The Hindu Business Line BLink, Scroll, TheWire, The Sunday Guardian, American Book Review, Economic Times Blog, The Punch Magazine, Alchemy: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories II, and other places. His next novel, tentatively titled “A Memorial”, is forthcoming in late-2017.


Greetings Sowvendra,

It is an honour to interview a writer as accomplished as you. I just finished reading your debut book ‘The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey’ published by Aleph in 2014.


1- Let’s begin with your name. From your novel I found out that ‘Hansda’ is a family name. How is it your first name?

A- My father wanted me to have an impressive name, so he gave me a looong name with my surname placed at the beginning.


2- (i) It is a coincidence that I finished reading Doctors by Erich Segal just before your book. After reading it I concluded that one need not be a doctor to write a good story about doctors’ lives and maybe that conclusion came about because I’m not a doctor myself. As you are a doctor, what do you think?

A- If writing is not the primary profession of a person who writes, it is not necessary that that person’s primary profession should influence that person’s literary works. In some stories of mine, I have written about doctors and hospitals, but that is because I found a story in them and not because I am a doctor. I think anyone can write about anything.


(ii) In other interviews, you have been asked how your profession as a doctor affects your writing. Especially this book, because it is about a mysterious ‘ailment.’ In my reading of the book I did not feel that the doctor in you overshadowed the writer in you because to write well one has to be observant. The novel is a good observation of society, how the society perceives illness, human suffering, black magic, injustice, character, gender identity, caste etc. Any comments?

A- In one of my interviews, I said: “Doctors see things, not only ailments.” So, yes, we doctors are observant. But we doctors have to be observant. That is a prerequisite in our job. But as far as observing people and society and etc. goes, anyone can observe those. One just needs to be interested in what is happening in the world outside and keep one’s eyes and ears open.


3- You have created poles apart female characters in this book. Putki who had had many affairs before she got married and her daughter-in-law Rupi who doesn’t even know what being touched in the ‘conceiving’ way means. This self-awareness was brought out well in the novel. Can you tell us why you did it?

A- This wasn’t done consciously. I had not aimed to create some kind of a contrast between Putki and Rupi. It just happened.


4- Each chapter is broken down into small scenes with a little backstory about each character. You separate scenes with tildes. Did you do this to retain the reader’s attention span keeping in mind the novel form and the risk it poses when the reader gets distracted?

A- Well, I get distracted. My attention span is really poor and I have a hundred things running in my mind at a given moment. So if you think the chapters are like how you have described, that was probably because I wanted the chapters to suit my own poor attention span.


5- There is a witch family in the novel. The naikay family. You bring alive ghosts in your novel. They were really haunting, to be honest. Is this all from folklore or do women really have rolling eyes like the naikay’s wife?

A- They were all an amalgamation of the stories that I grew up hearing and my own imagination.


6- Della, the defiant daughter of the naikay family somehow escapes the grip of her witch mother. This reminds me of the movie Titli, in which the protagonist wishes to escape his patriarchal family and he eventually does. Any comments?

A- Yes, Della escapes. J And I have seen “Titli”. A very fine film. There is a difference between Della’s escape and Titli’s escape. Titli arranges for his brothers to be arrested before he starts a new life with Neelu. Della just leaves her family the way they are. Also, in both cases, I don’t think Della and Titli escaped. They just tried to seek the lives they thought were better and happier, with the people they loved.


7– Since this was your first book, can you tell us how you plotted the book. Minutely or you wrote it as it came? Considering the many characters, was it difficult?

A- Although “The Mysterious Ailment Of Rupi Baskey” is my first book, the plot and characters were there in my mind for several years. I just had to sit down one day and write it all out. So I did it in May 2011. Started writing. I finished in October 2011. Despite the many characters, it wasn’t difficult because, like I said, everything was in my mind from quite early on.


8- Through your novel, I found out that Adivasis/Santhals/STs eat beef, pork and more. I have often been asked by vegetarians whether I eat ‘everything’ as it is quite common among Goans and Mangaloreans to consume meat. I feel like an outsider at such times and wonder why we are looked down upon for what we eat. You mention in the book that other people from the village look down upon Santhals for their eating habits. Any comments?

A- Well, yes, despite my own village being primarily a Santhal village, we Santhals have experienced discrimination at the hands of Hindus. Forget higher caste Hindus, even those lower caste Hindus that the upper caste Hindus wouldn’t want to see discriminated against the Santhals. They did not allow their things to be touched by Santhals. They did not consume food or water from or at a Santhal home. Things have improved a lot over the years. The discrimination of those years is not there anymore. But yes, discrimination is there. Adivasis are still considered impure and uncouth. Sometimes I think this entire hyphenated “Dalit-Adivasi” thing that we have created is an absolute sham. Just because Dalits and Adivasis hang around together in university campuses and offices does not mean that Dalits all over India have started seeing Adivasis as equals. It is OK for educated Dalits to see Adivasis as equals, but what about in the villages, in the interiors of our great country where traditions rule and inequality is a norm? University campuses might be hunky dory, but go into a village and all your education and idealism will fall flat on their faces. As long as caste and religious pride is there, people of different communities wouldn’t be seen as equal. Walls of caste and notions of who can be touched and who cannot be touched have to be demolished completely before even Dalits – the higher up Hindus are a far different story – accept Adivasis as equal.


9- I have been quite ignorant about Adivasis, please forgive my unintentional ignorance. When I was a child, on vacation in India, when I did not know something simple I guess, I was called an Adivasi. When I inquired what that meant. I was told it meant I don’t know anything just like the tribals and later on in my mind I thought they were tribals like the Amazon forest tribes.

 In your second book, The Adivasi will not dance, the protagonists have well-paid jobs and live in cities and towns. Your book sheds light on educated Adivasis. Is this possible because of the ST quota in college admissions etc.? Any comments?

A- Absolutely. Though I am not OK with the term Scheduled Tribe for Adivasis, I have to admit that the reservation for the Adivasis has helped us a lot in realising our dreams.


10- From stories narrated to me about life in Goa, I have had a certain picture of life there in my head. Rice fields in which women have to work, belief that black magic exists and is all powerful, ghosts wander about looking for lone people, people gossiping about each other… All this came to mind as I read your book where you have painted a similar picture of the Santhal village. Any comments?

A- I think in every part of the world, not only in India, not only in Jharkhand or in Goa, there might be things that are beyond rational explanation. That’s all I can say.


11- You faced a backlash after the publication of your second book. Can you tell us more?

A- Well, from what I know, after the publication of “The Adivasi Will Not Dance”, apparently, a non-Adivasi man, from an apparently higher up Hindu caste, masquerading as a champion of Adivasi issues, incited some Adivasis to spew poison against me and they did it. This is all I can say because I do not think people like these deserve even an alphabet from me or a nanosecond of my time.


12– (i) From your Facebook posts, I see that you love to bake. How did this hobby come about and are you as passionate about it as you are towards writing?

A- Not only baking, cooking, in general. I find cooking therapeutic. After returning home from a hypertension-inducing day of a government doctor, cooking a fine dish or a full meal is a total stress buster. How did I veer towards cooking? Because I love to eat. Sometimes I think I live to eat. And my mother and my aunt (my father’s sister, who taught me alphabets and raised me), are fabulous cooks. I am living away from my family, and I often wonder what will happen if my mother and aunt aren’t there tomorrow? So I am trying to learn to cook all the dishes that I have loved since my childhood and which my mother and aunt used to cook for me. Also, my mother and aunt – my aunt, especially – are fine knitters. All the fabulous sweaters in red and pink and green and golden that I wear at lit fests have been knitted by my aunt. So I am also learning how to knit because I want to be able to learn to knit at least one decent sweater before my mother and my aunt leave. Who will I turn to for hand-knitted woolens after they are gone? No one else can take their place. So I am preparing myself. But knitting is so difficult! Cooking and knitting—I am like obsessed with both.


(ii) in your novel, you describe how men and women are looked at differently by society, what defines their roles. Do you think people still consider baking as a feminine thing?

A- I cannot really say why men and women are seen differently by the society because gender roles and gender stereotypes have already been established. As for baking being a feminine activity, I do not see any activity as masculine and feminine. Why does one bake? Because one wishes to eat something to fill one’s stomach or to taste something good. Don’t men eat? So how can baking be a feminine activity? Basic tasks like cooking, washing clothes, cleaning the house, changing a light bulb, replacing the coil of an electric heater, ironing clothes, stitching a broken button—these are basic survival tasks. Everyone – whether boy or girl or man or woman – should know how to do these tasks.


13- (i) Your book was longlisted for the International Dublin Award last year. It is one of the most prestigious international literary awards.How did it feel?

A- It felt good. For 24 hours, at least, I was flying in the sky. Then I returned to my job, realised that I was in Pakur and not in Dublin, and was immediately grounded. I take this opportunity to thank the library at the India International Centre, New Delhi for nominating “The Mysterious Ailment Of Rupi Baskey” to the International Dublin Literary Award 2016.

(ii) Akhil Sharma won it for his novel ‘Family Life’. Have you read his book?

A- No, I haven’t.


14- What do awards for your writing mean to you?

A- Well, I feel like living longer and writing some more.


15- Books you would recommend that shed light about Adivasis.

A- I will recommend three novels by Easterine Kire: “Bitter Wormwood”, “When The River Sleeps”, and “Son Of The Thundercloud”; and three books by Mamang Dai: “Legends Of Pensam”, “Stupid Cupid”, and “The Black Hill”.

And books published by the Kolkata-based independent, not-for-profit publishing house “Adivaani” which is a publishing house set up by an Adivasi, Ruby Hembrom, a Santhal woman, to publish works by Adivasi writers on Adivasi issues. Their website is: http://adivaani.org
Also, there are books published by the Sahitya Akademi in Santhali and other Adivasi languages which are recognised by the Constitution of India. I am not sure if these books are available in English translation or not, but they sure are a formidable source of information on the Adivasi communities in India.”

 


16- Your book has been translated into regional languages. What happens to the words from the novel that are written in english script but are of regional languages like Bengali/Santhali?

A- The words which are in Santhali or Bengali or Hindi or Odia in my stories originally written in English, I let the translator know that I do not want them translated. I want them in the original form. If the Santhali words can remain in original Santhali in an English story, I don’t see any reason to have them translated. So far, only “The Adivasi Will Not Dance” has been published in translation: in Hindi and in Marathi. So in the Hindi translation too, the Santhali words will remain in Santhali.


17- What are you working on next?

A- My third book, which is my second novel, is in the editing stage, and will be published by Speaking Tiger, hopefully, in November 2017. Right now, the working title of this novel is “A Memorial”, but I think this title will be changed and we will go with a new title. I am also writing my fourth book, which will be my third novel. This too has a working title but I won’t reveal it as, I am sure, it will end up revealing the entire plot. This too will be published by Speaking Tiger, hopefully in 2018.


 

Thank you!

Buy his books here

The Adivasi will not dance- Speaking Tiger, Amazon (Hindi version), Amazon (English).

The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey- Amazon, Flipkart, Aleph.


 

Interview 8- Sharanya Manivannan

 

Sharanya Manivannan’s latest book is The High Priestess Never Marries (Harpercollins India, 2016), a collection of stories on women, solitude and desire which was shortlisted for the Tata Lit Live! First Book Award (Fiction). She is also the author of a book of poems, Witchcraft, and a children’s picturebook, The Ammuchi Puchi. 

In this interview, we will be discussing her short story collection, her thoughts on marriage and more.


1- Most of your stories from the collection are published in online journals.  Did your publication credentials play a pivotal role in your MS acceptance at Harper?

It was actually poetry that brought me to HarperCollins India. At the end of 2013, I got a note from ManasiSubramaniam, who had just moved to HCI at the time from Karadi Tales in Chennai, where I had previously worked with her on an audiobook for children. She asked if I had a poetry manuscript for her. It was mid-2015 by the time I did, but a beautiful and miraculous thing happened: I finished both the poetry manuscript (The Altar of the Only World) and a manuscript of short stories (The High Priestess Never Marries) within a couple of months of one another.

I was given a choice about which I wanted to have published first. Most of the stories from the collection are not online actually, although several vignettes are. Many of the most substantial ones (such as “Conchology, “Cyclone Crossing” and “Sweetness, Wildness, Greed”) have never been published anywhere else. But what is true is that many years of publishing poetry, fiction as well as columns and other prose in various places did bring my work to the attention of both readers and publishers.

I would recommend that to anyone who writes: send your work to journals as you work on a lengthy manuscript, otherwise it will be very difficult to get noticed from the slush pile.


2- The prose drips with carnal desire. What motivated you to write on this theme?

I see desire not as a means to an end, both on the page and off it, but as a way of being. I know what most people think of here is the eroticism in my work, but I expand my definition of desire to cover all states of longing.

There’s a passage in the story “Corvus” that encapsulates this: “The one thing I know to be true is not that love is all there is, or that everything dies. It is that everybody has want. It’s a tiny nerve, a vein of gypsum, that runs through everything—everyone—and sometimes I see someone else’s so clearly that it catches me by the throat. In every place I have been in the world I have looked at people and seen right through into their lives, into the one true thing for which this wretched bittersweet is worth enduring, and I have broken into pieces at the recognition of it. It’s the smallest thing. The smallest, smallest, smallest thing.”

But I’m not going to shy away from the eroticism in my writing. It’s there, and why not? It isn’t there to titillate. It’s there, like everything else, only to tell the truth.


3- What is your idea of feminism and according to which story in your collection portrays that idea the best?

This is a nicely challenging question, because so many of the stories are deeply feminist in my view. Even when the character in question isn’t necessarily a feminist herself, her choices reveal something about the effect of the patriarchal paradigm on women. Like the married women and how they choose to operate within that scaffolding.  And then there are the wild, petal-soft and trauma-toughened women of “Corvus” and “Sandalwood Moon”, for instance.

The latter story contains the genesis of the book, this line: “And if I could not teach you how to love, I would teach myself how to live alone”. But I’m ultimately drawn to the narrator of “Ancestress”. She tells the story of the goddess Kanyakumari, who is deserted on the day of her wedding, and about how she herself – an ordinary human with her ordinary human loneliness – ritualistically marries her own ancestral goddess. I’d pick that story because it is so completely about devotion and self-possession and purpose in the world. And these are the things that inform my feminism.

The author Tanuj Solanki discussed with me in another interview how my women seem to be feminists not in response to a patriarchal paradigm but as a natural state. I agree. The Sanskrit word “swayambu”, or self-manifested, comes to mind. Fighting the system from within is passé. Things have evolved: free yourself.


4- Have you ever been told not to write so boldly like women are often told not to do many things?

Absolutely. Like any woman, I have been told to not be, not do, not love, not live.


5- Do you feel contemporary Indian fiction in English lacks anything and does your book fill the void in any way?

I actually think that, when you include all the work that is being translated from other Indian languages, Indian fiction in English is quite diverse. I’m not sure if there’s a particular void my book fills, even though I’ve been experimental both in terms of story lengths and language.


6- When one reads your collection, there is a feeling that all stories are of the same woman. One woman. How often have you been asked if they are autobiographical and do you like the question?

To be honest, how I respond to the question depends a lot on how I respond to the person asking it. If I sense voyeurism of any kind, I bristle. If I sense sincerity, I am more forthcoming. While biographically the women differ, there is certainly something similar about most of them at their core. And I share that core with them, if not always the details. I’ve never been married (“Afternoon Sex”), I’ve never had children (“Cyclone Crossing”), and god knows I haven’t committed murder while literally having sex (“Sky Clad” and “Salomé”), so sometimes the question is odd. Ultimately, I think that intangible core is what makes the book cohesive. Our circumstances are not who we are, there’s something deeper in each of us that informs our every stirring, our every step.


7- Indian women writers who have influenced your style?

Arundhati Roy’s The God Of Small Things opened my world. I read it when I was 14. The language was exquisite, and I think that was one of the first books that made me sure that a wide vocabulary was no hindrance to simple storytelling. But my influences are wider than only women or Indian writers.

I’d be remiss to not say that I educated myself on a literary canon of women writers of colour. Among them: Sandra Cisneros, Joy Harjo, Louise Erdrich and so many more.

And men: Michael Ondaatje, for example. What would my work, my world, have been without his? AK Ramanujam’s bhakti and Sangam translations were another experience that expanded my heart and mind when I was much younger. For someone who reads as widely as I do, it’s reductive to name only Indian women as influences or favourites.


8- What led you to start penning stories? A person?A book?

I loved books from before I could read to myself, and loved them even more once I could. I started to write poems when I was 7 years old, and still experience the headiness of it. To be able to feel a thing and to give words to it – it’s intoxicating, and it made me feel powerful even as a child.


9- I got the sense from your stories that you have paid emphasis to each line of each story. And a single line can be so profound, it is obvious much introspection has gone into framing it. Like this:

‘there was one man who seemed to discover the eloquence of kissing the hand, because the way he then took mine and did the same suggested unfamiliarity, wonder, the simplicity of imitation. I would later grieve thinking about the other women he would confer the same upon, this tenderness I had given him. As though anything in any of us is truly new, unclaimed.’

-Corvus

Any comments?

Every line, yes. I’m a poet at heart, and always will be.


10- The vocabulary in your book is rich. I have never heard of some of the words.

Do you think of an ideal reader when you write your stories/Are you concerned about losing readers for the complex language?

I can only write a story in the ways I know how, and my large vocabulary and my belief that every word has its place are tools for the telling. Just as if I were to narrate something to you over a kitchen table, my eyes would speak, my voice would reveal, and my hands and the tactile sensation would finely detail the story. Those tools aren’t there when it’s between a reader and a book, when the printed word is all there is. For me, the honest desire of a story to exist, to be spoken, to be seduced onto the page, is the only guiding light I concern myself with.

I wrote a children’s book, The Ammuchi Puchi, that didn’t get published for several years because the language was too heavy for a picturebook (it was eventually released by Lantana Publishing – in the same month as The High Priestess Never Marries!). For it too, it was the same thing. I can only tell a story as I know how to tell it. I trust that every reader the story will encounter will share my heart. Even though I know that isn’t true, but I write and release my work into the world in that good faith.


11- I would like to discuss the title story a bit.

(i) As the context of the story is set in India. I would like to know your thoughts about the way ‘marriage’ is looked at in India?

(ii) Do you think it is necessary for a woman to be married? If not, why?

I’ll answer the second question first, and simply: obviously not. Choosing to marry because you are investing in property together, having children together and so on make sense to me from a legal framework. But seeing marriage as a necessary life step, a life goal if you will, does a very dangerous thing to one’s sense of self.

Historically, marriage everywhere had a practical function rooted in hegemonies. Did you know that only 2% of Indian marriages are inter-caste? That’s the primary criteria (religion is already implied), followed by class. This means that even those who believe themselves to be liberated subconsciously toe the line. I think we’re in deep denial about how bigoted we are in this country, on so many levels: religion, class, caste, language, skin colour, eating habits, gender. And we’re unable to see that matrimony isn’t just about two people or even two families. It maintains and enforces political and social status quos.

Public discourse is very cowardly. We’ve speak about how marriage is difficult for women without actually interrogating the institution itself. As long as we don’t do this, the problems that women have faced for centuries: dowry, giving up one’s career, moving into the man’s home with his parents, being responsible for childcare, etc, will be the same one’s that we’re working out. It’s also necessary to delink sexuality and marriage completely, which we haven’t done. We’re still talking about pre-marital and extra-marital instead of removing the word “marital” from the equation altogether. And the social unit of the family itself needs to change its focus from this new rallying cry of raising strong daughters to raising kind sons.

I’m totally unimpressed by what is popular in Indian cities these days: the “arranged-cum-love” marriage. What a complete oxymoron. What it means is that you are casually introduced to someone of your own background, already vetted through subtle and overt cues. You perform together for six months or a year, presenting the social impression that you are dating. When in fact, there’s a sword of Damocles hanging over your head: you know you were informally engaged to this person from the day you met them.When that six month or one year milestone arrives and your families are about to make a public announcement or put down a deposit on a wedding hall, can you say No? Only technically. In actuality, the pressure makes it very difficult. This is how marriage has evolved in urban India for my generation, which is why the next generation will comprise of so many children whose parents are divorced. That’s the generation that will hopefully make a more meaningful change.

All this being said, the title story of “The High Priestess Never Marries” was such fun to write. I’ve loved hearing people laugh out loud as they read it or heard me read it to them. I think it surprises people that such a heavy title belongs to such a light-hearted story. But it does. The High Priestess never marries because she has better things to do, babe.


12- Your book has received great reviews. When you were writing it, did you anticipate a negative feedback- the ‘morality’ of the protagonists questioned?

I never expected the warmth with which The High Priestess Never Marries has been received. Even when we were in the final stage of proofreading, I couldn’t get enough distance from the manuscript to be able to see it objectively. All I saw was my vulnerability, my blood, my desire to hold my heart up as a torch to light my own way and anyone else’s. There were pieces no one had ever seen other than me and my editors; I was so close to it that even my dearest friends hadn’t read some of it.

There is moral policing, yes. I come from a conservative and dysfunctional background, and I live in a conservative city, so I am used to being morally policed. And I’ve always fought it but I would be dishonest if I said it hasn’t at the very least left scratches on me. That will happen despite all the positive responses to the book. But there is another type of moral-shaming that also takes place, which disguises itself cleverly. The book received one sexist review by a male critic, who tried to dismiss it by saying that it contains no mythology or history and is preoccupied with the body.

Can you imagine – a book which contains Scheherazade of the Arabian Nights, Sara-la-Kali of the Romani people, Lilitu and Inanna of ancient Sumeria, the Biblical Salome, Kali in coitus with the corpse of Shiva, the Shivalingam not as penetration but as birth, Kanyakumari as an abandoned bride, Narasimhar placing his bride on his benediction-bloodied lap, rarely heard narratives of women mourners and women honeyhunters… and much more! – being charged with this? The reason is sleazily simple: if one is unable to situate a woman’s body as the site of its own stories and histories, if one’s gaze only clocks her as an object of pleasure – ah, how much else is unseen, unexperienced.


13- I enjoy reading contemporary Indian fiction. I have to admit I haven’t seen women portrayed in the way they are in your book. Do you think India is ready for such women?

We will live and love and die with or without that sanction. We always have. We always will.


14- I feel your stories have a perfect union of content and form.

Content:  Short stories about relationships that do not materialise into something significant or that most people would consider failures.

Form: Stories without a beginning, middle or and end.

We often wonder after a failed relationship. Oh what was that for? Or after reading a story, oh what was that about?

Your stories have used content and form very well to portray your theme.

Example: It’s not necessary they should lead to something like a conventional end to a love story- A marriage.

It could just be about their memories.

Any comments?

What a lovely question. I do feel that The High Priestess Never Marries is a book of love stories that subverts the romance genre. It puts the woman at the centre of the story – her emotions, her personality, her weaknesses, her choices – and the end goal isn’t to attain another person’s partnership, but to build a sense of belonging for herself that isn’t tethered to external variables. The emotional project of independence isn’t something we often discuss. We talk about it in terms of financial liquidity, qualifications, the fulfillment you get from your job, the ability to travel if you choose, the free time you have and how you spend it, the friendships you forge. But I’ve seen over and over again how, given a chance to have that coveted romantic partnership (or frankly, just the social legitimacy of matrimony), people will give all those things up. The investment in selfhood is revealed to have actually been quite shallow, a waystation. It’s very demanding to shake off the deep conditioning that makes us this way. My life has forced me to do so, and I’m now deep enough into my own emotional project to be able to say confidently – another way is possible.


15- Tell us a little about how your ‘traditional’ autograph came about. Your sign with a smooch.

I’ve been signing that way since my first book, Witchcraft, came out in 2008. I love flamboyance and romance (there’s a line in The High Priestess Never Marries: “I like my fights dirty, my vodka neat and my romance anachronistic”), but even more than that, I love connection. Someone told me at my book launch in Chennai that I take way too long to sign each book – a press of lipstick, their name, a quote and sometimes a note, my name and sometimes a little chat or a hug – but it’s a gesture of gratitude and a personal touch. Everything I make, I make with love. You don’t have to like what I make, but you can’t deny the love I put into it.


16- What is your next book?

The Altar Of The Only World, which I mentioned earlier, comes out with HarperCollins India in 2018. It’s a book of poems that began with Sita in solitude, musing deep in the forest. She looks up at the night sky and watched Lucifer’s fall from grace – cast out of heaven because like her, he was too devoted. And in the stirrings in the underbelly of the Earth, there is Inanna – who demanded to be allowed into the underworld, and was stripped of everything before she got there. It’s a book of poems about grace and resurrection.


17- You are a poet and now a fiction writer. Which is easier to sink in for you like one does into a mother’s arms?

Poetic prose is now the domain where my creativity flows.


 18- Tell us a little about your experience writing non-fiction: your column for the New Indian Express- The Venus Flytrap and about how the title of your column came about.

One day, when I was a 22 year old blogger, the then editor-in-chief of The New Indian Express emailed me and asked if I was interested in writing for the new weekend edition they were launching. I came up with the name of the column in large part because of a Tori Amos quote: “I use innocence in my demeanor like a venus flytrap”. The name has grown with me, as has the column. I’m no longer an ingénue and I no longer plead innocence. I’m not afraid of my own bite. It has been a real gift to be able to write a newspaper column. The first installment ran from 2008 to 2011, when that supplement closed. Then, in 2015 I bumped into one of my former editors, who had also rejoined the paper, and she was revamping the Chennai city supplement, and asked if I wanted to start the column again. Of course I did!

I actually think more about my newspaper readers than I do about the ones who pick up my poetry or fiction while in the process of writing to them. Yes, to them and not for them. This is because with poetry and fiction, I know that whatever the ultimate response is, my words are in their hands because they sought them out. Not always so for a newspaper – a person may be flipping pages at the dentist’s office, or may be looking for the movie listings, or may be interested in the sports section. How do I reach that reader whose eye falls on my column? How do I make the three minutes they spend with me worth their while? What can I do with the platform that will help make the world a better place: whether that’s through a sociopolitical statement I’m making that makes them think, or through an anecdote I’m sharing that moves them in some way?


19- There is a sense of culture in each story in the collection- folklore, tamil words etc. Do you see the freedom to own your romantic relationships different from Indian culture?

I have often heard this line: This is not part of our culture.

Be it any lifestyle choice- dating or drinking. I feel you have weaved the essence of what we inherit and imbibe as humans very well here. Any comments?

We totally misunderstand what culture is, because it’s actually an evolving thing – neither monolithic nor stuck in the past. I think Tamil culture today is Tamil cinema, to be honest. It’s misogynistic to the bone, often incoherent, suffers an inferiority complex but damn aren’t those songs beautiful. Indian culture on the whole, on the meanwhile, has been taken over by the Hindutva juggernaut, and we’re all getting crushed under it. Are these things to be proud of? Or here’s a better question: why are people proud of these things?

So I don’t want to hark back to any kind of nostalgia about what culture is. I don’t want to talk about Sangam poetry or the Khajuraho sculptures or all the sexing and partying in mythology as a means of proving my point. Those are some cultural artifacts. They live on in many ways, but they live alongside what is in the present. So if people say dating or drinking are not a part of Indian culture, yet so many Indian people do both, then I can only surmise this: lying about it, being hypocritical about it, that certainly is a part of our current cultural milieu. Those are the values actually being encouraged. To connect culture to politics: not integrity or plurality, but hatred and dishonesty.


20- A Tamil Brahmin friend told me that in a traditional Tamil Hindu Brahmin wedding when the girl is given to the boy. It is said that ‘this girl is donated to you. This is the biggest donation ever.’ And that a girl is supposed to give up worshiping the Gods she used to worship before marriage and now be loyal to the Gods her husband worships. For me, this seemed like a whole different level of giving up your name after marriage.

Correct me if I’m wrong. What’s your view on it?

Wedding customs are very problematic in many cultures, because marriage itself in an inherently patriarchal idea. In so many cultures, fathers give away brides (as if they are property), women are made to wear markers like nuptial chains and toe-rings to indicate their unavailability, women are made to vow to “obey”, etc. Feminists can challenge these rituals on a simple level, by refusing to participate or improvising them. For instance, I have worn both metti (nuptial toe-rings) and sindoor at the parting of my hair, traditional wedding markers, despite never having married, just because I like the way they look – and I’ve shocked many people by doing so. (I’ve also never married, and I’ve shocked many people by doing so too.)

But your question allows me to propose a much deeper solution, which is ultimately the only one. Indian marriage functions essentially for the sake of caste endogamy, which is why Indian feminism has not gone as far as it can. Which is to say: if women who have the privilege of not giving up caste as a personal identifier choose not to do, their feminism is not intersectional and therefore suspect. There is a clear political distinction between – just to use your example – a woman who identifies as Brahmin versus a woman who is from a Brahmin background. There has been some interesting new scholarship on the fact that upper caste feminists routinely centre gender-based caste discourse on what happens to women of, or in, other backgrounds as a means of obfuscating the fact that Brahminical patriarchy is controlled by their own kith and kin, who do not need to engage in literal violence in order to perpetuate and benefit from it. I’ve personally experienced how calling out the use of caste markers “instead of” talking about violence between castes far lower on the hierarchy invites their tone policing. So here’s a suggestion: want to truly shake up sexist marital customs? Marry outside the caste you were born in!


21- In this video interview you mention different forms of love- absent love,  requited love, love lost, love demanded, love envisioned, love unforeseen, challenging love, quiet love, ancestral love, the love of the world itself, both given and received…

This categorizing of love left me speechless. How do you think it is easy for you to distinguish one from another? Experience?

The distinguishing actually comes from acknowledgement of their ultimate union. Love is love is love is love. I think what differentiates one kind from another is circumstantial, and what determines its evolution from those circumstances (its consequences, if you will) is action. We call it “choice” but it’s not always conscious. How do we choose to act in the presence of love, how do we choose to act in its absence? These are the things that make us who we are.


22- You also mention in the interview that Frida Kahlo is your inspiration. I love her self-portraits. The first story in your collection is titled ‘Self-portrait without mythology’. Most of your stories in the collection feel like a conscious recording of people met, conversations had, memories shared, habits imbibed etc. overall forming the person, the protagonist herself. Body, soul and mind.Any comments?

I’ve loved Frida Kahlo a long, long time. She kissed her love letters, you know, and I kiss my books goodbye as they say hello to their readers. I think there are many things I do because I was influenced by her from my teens onward, and the reason she had that effect on me was because I identified both with her flamboyance and her perseverance.

I titled the first story as “Self-Portrait Without Mythology” because telling the truth of who we are, telling our own stories to ourselves and claiming them, is the vital first step of that emotional project we talked about earlier. “Mythology” here means something that is unlikely to be factual, and is only symbolic. In this vignette, a young woman considers the facts of her life, what has filled it and how she fills it, and holds the wisdom she knows close. Among these facts is the unknown but foreseen, the ethos and encapsulation of all of her life still to come.

You could say this piece sets the core that unites all the characters the book contains.


23- Any advice to young aspiring women writers in India and the diaspora?

Be brave and be kind, for it will imbue all you do with grace. If you cannot strike a balance between the two, you are failing at one or both, so check yourself. And read – my goodness, this cannot be said enough. Read so much that you don’t even see the point of writing your own books. And then, if words still wake you up in the night demanding to be inked, do it. That’s the only way you’ll say something true.

I’d say that advice was meant for everyone, not just women. But here’s something specifically for women – eschew all legacy except this one: you come from a long line of illiterates. You are among the first few generations who can perform this miracle: turning thought to word to script. Forget everything else if you must, but not this. It will guide you and all you do.


* * *

You can buy her book here


Redemption- New story published in the Madras Mag

My story ‘Redemption is published in the latest issue of The Madras Mag, founded and edited by Krupe Ge.

(Krupa Ge, a writer and journalist, is the Founding Editor of The Madras Mag. She was shortlisted for a Toto Prize in Creative Writing and was subsequently awarded the Toto-Sangam Residency Fellowship, in 2016. She worked in leading national newspapers including The Hindu and The Times of India, and wrote extensively on art, culture, music, literature, etc, for eight years before starting The Madras Mag. Her short fiction has appeared in Indian Literature, published by Sahitya Akademi, Scroll.in, The Bombay Review, Muse India, 2014 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology, Reading Hour and Papercuts among various print and online journals in India and abroad.)