Interview 7- Manu Bhattathiri

Interview 7- Manu Bhattathiri

Manu Bhattathiri, a writer from Bangalore (originally from Kerala) has written the critically acclaimed ‘Savithri’s special Room and other stories’ published by Harper Collins India in 2016 which has received positive reviews on popular platforms like The Hindu, Hindustan Times, The Hindu Business Line, Spark Magazine, Deccan Herald, New Indian Express etc.

It was longlisted for the TATA lit live award 2016.
His stories are set in the fictional town of Karuthupuzha. The town of Karuthupuzha is loosely modeled on Cherupoika, a small village near Kollam in South Kerala.

Some of his stories have been published in The Caravan, The Bombay Literary Magazine among others. His next book- a novel is due from Aleph later this year.

In this interview, we will be discussing his short story collection, his dogs, the craft of writing and much more.

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Hello Manu, I decided to read your collection after reading two of your wonderful short stories online. The Cold in The Caravan and The Biggest Enemy of Rain in The Bombay literary magazine.


1-What do you think of literary magazines?

I believe literary magazines do the wonderful job of reaching meaningful writing to the masses in easy, economical and convenient ways. And yet they’re perhaps not flourishing as much as the political ones. I think more needs to be done to publicize them and reach them to the right audiences.


2- Your stories always have an omniscient narrator.

(i)Why?

Having an omniscient narrator helps me move back and forth between the heads of people (and things!) in a free manner. It makes my writing, how shall I say, more fulfilling and energized. So no part of a story is a mere ‘filler’ and nothing is told only to make up the book’s ‘structure’. Every element of these stories comes alive and has character when I drift between them. It’s a great feeling to give life to bits of imagination.


(ii) How challenging was it w.r.t how far would you take the reader into the character’s head ( even the non-living things like a chair)?

I would say it takes a lot of dexterity to change hats between sentences, but it sure is fun. The trick is partly to stay invisible; to not make your own – the writer’s own – personality and character seep into the stuff you are describing. In that respect it is challenging, but once it flows … well, it flows.


3- (i) Why a fictional place for your stories?

To be honest, a fictional town makes me less accountable. I can wander with my imagination without having to be factually correct. No one is going to say, “But there is no bus stop at that junction, he’s got it all wrong”, or worse, “In this particular town the Communists haven’t held sway for the last forty years; he’s pushing his own agenda.” Factual correctness and anachronisms are my nightmare.

Another thing is, an entirely fictional place is very stimulating to the imagination. Now, after writing two books on Karuthupuzha, I actually have the place in my head – the bus stand with its one bus, the market place, the river to the west, even many of the side-streets. It’s very satisfying to know that you created it all!


(ii) Your stories are satirical. Do you think setting it in real place would have made the readers take it more seriously?

I don’t see too much to be gained by basing my canvas on a ‘real’ place. In any case, my effort has been to go deeper into people’s natures, to be more original in my humor and to be truly inventive with my plot and not so much to accurately portray any place. If you see, the town of Karuthupuzha is only a background to the people and happenings. The satire, at least in most places, would hold good for anyone from any part of the world.


4- Every main protagonist in each of your stories has a unique characteristic. How challenging was it and why did you choose to use that trope?

I have not imagined Karuthupuzha as a place with a lot of peculiar people. These are just ordinary people upon whom the camera has been held in unusual close-up. In life, too, when you look at the most ordinary person very closely, his individual peculiarities show up and are often extremely amusing. I knew a milkman once who loved milk and drank it on the way to distributing it, so much so that he lost a lot of business! He was a very routine character from the outside. But look at the quirk when you really get to know him.


5- Can you tell us a little about the cover photo. I understand it was inspired by a painting from your friend/business partner?

Yes, my friend and business partner Sudhir had first painted Savithri’s special chamber; the room where grandmothers in Kerala store grain and food items. He had painted it realistically, and I have that masterpiece hung on a wall in my house. In his picture there was a window through which light entered the otherwise dark room. The artist here has borrowed that window and given it a surreal feel with the fish swimming about. Many people have remarked that the cover is curious and welcoming.


6- Your portrayal of a small town in Kerala is intriguing.

(i) Was it a longing for a home you never knew? In a way like immigrant writers long for their home.

Yes, it is born of a lot of childhood longing, I would say. It’s not a home I never knew, though. It is the home of my grandparents, in a little village called Cherupoika in Kollam district. But I got to visit this place only during my school holidays, and I never had enough of staying in this land of stories and funny people and great food. In retrospect I would say childhood longing is a precursor to a good imagination.


(ii) I noticed the usage of stereotypes like coconut, tapioca etc. in your description of Karuthupuzha. This reminds me of Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk. The danger of the only story. Do you think your collection resembles the notion of Kerala that others have of it or differs from it? What was your aim?

This is more to do with my lack of a conscious effort to be too different in the particulars. I write easily, without much intent really, and when that is your method of painting Kerala, you get the same old Kerala! Kerala is about coconut trees and achappams and tapioca. After a million descriptions the unniappams still taste unique. But what I have tried to make truly different are my style and characterization.


7- The humour in your stories is laugh out loud funny. Did you start looking at life with a laugh after the difficult phase in your life which you talk about in this article?

Well, I have always had a funny way to look at the world. I can observe things deeply and yet amusedly, and that, I believe, lets me write without taking myself too seriously. The incident described in the article was, indeed, a turning point, yes, but my humor was around always. In fact I sometimes think that it’s because the world is so funny that I came back to it after my illness.


8- What was your biggest challenge in writing interlinked stories? Does it require meticulous planning? (This question came to me when I met your protagonist from ‘The Cold’ in another story in the collection.)

In the case of this collection there was absolutely no planning. I would just get an idea (very often when I was talking to my wife) and sit about writing the story, without knowing how it advances or how it ends. It would be loosely based on some character I knew or had heard about. But as the stories progressed I was able to integrate characters from previous stories by happy coincidence.

But I don’t think that is the way at all. For future writing I think I will carefully put the plot down first. In fact, for my next book, the novel, I wrote down a synopsis first – a chapterwise summary that gave me a skeleton to work on. Of course, many of the characters (most, in fact) were still born outside of this summary, but the structure of the book is tighter. So I think working on the plot is good.


9- Did you decide on a themed collection keeping publication in mind? I have heard that themed collections have a better chance at acceptance than a collection of unrelated stories.

Not really, because I had already got a publisher before I wrote all the stories. HarperCollins and Aleph had reached out after reading the two stories in The Caravan magazine. I’m very thankful to them, because I had the freedom to write the stories easily, therefore, without worrying about what might please a publisher.


10- Tell us a little of how your story ‘The Cold’ got accepted at the caravan.

I had written The Cold just like that, without any intention of publishing it. I then sent it to a friend of mine, Moyna Mazumdar, who is an editor at a publishing house. I just wanted to amuse her with it. After sending it I promptly had a bit of a fight with her about some silly ideology argument, and we went into sulk mode for some time. But then, one morning I get a mail from Chandrahas Choudhury, Editor of The Caravan’s fiction section, saying Moyna had sent my story to him and that he would love to run it! I was overjoyed and needless to say, Moyna and me became great friends again. I still disagree with her often, hoping she’ll help me find publishers for future works.


11- You were longlisted for the Tata Lit Live award recently. How do such awards help Indian writers?

Awards are always an encouragement for new writers. They kind of attest that you are good. But I feel what one needs to remember is, when you’re writing you don’t write for a jury. So I guess if you don’t win the award, don’t be too disappointed!


12- I loved the title story. Can you tell us why you chose the particular anti-climax?

In the title story I wished to bring out the unique characteristics of a type of woman not found anywhere anymore, in my experience – the grandmother whose entire life was a sacrifice. It’s totally based on my own grandma, my Ammoomma, who was neither educated nor very intelligent. She was animal-like to the extent that she only knew how to love. No one even knew what her secret disappointments were, or if she even had her own choices in things. The depths of her love and sacrifice might be immeasurable to us. In telling her story I needed to convey her longing for her grandson’s visit, her unthinking faith in the gods and the religion given to her to follow, her total compliance with whatever destiny brought her and the resilience with which she always got back to her routine; this routine was more sacred to her than her own desires and happiness!


13- You have a novel coming out by Aleph. Can you tell us a little about it? Your first book is critically acclaimed. What are your anticipations regarding your second?

Yes I have a Karuthupuzha novel set to be out end of this year or the beginning of the next. A few of the characters you have already met will occupy centre stage there, but a whole new cast will accompany them. Among a lot of fun there you might find the one theme of society-versus-individual flowing like the black river throughout the story. It’s the first novel I have written, and that is my main anticipation – I hope it is received as well as the stories. The writing of it has been quite different from the writing of the stories; it had to be a lot more planned and methodical. The characterization had to receive a lot more thought as it is more in-depth and detailed than in the short stories.


14- You have studied literature. How has it contributed to your writing?

I think general reading – however ardent and however well-chosen – will not measure up to the systematic study of literature. Studying literature as a course has irreplaceable benefits. In my case it has given me the power to objectively access my own work, and that is its main contribution. I can read a story that I have written and evaluate it critically when I read it a little later, say how it fares in the general context of stories out there and decide if the file is worth saving or not.


15- Another story of your collection ‘The Wife’s Leg’ was also published in The Caravan. I had a doubt about the ending. You said that you have received most questions about it from readers and that you don’t know the answer either.

What would you call this ‘not knowing’ about the creative process?

Yes, many friends have asked me, “What happened to Amminikutty after that?” and “What kind of a person was she really? What really went on in her head?” and all that. In fact my own wife suggests that I explore her side in another story. Perhaps …

I think the ‘not knowing’ is not just perfectly alright, it’s quite a necessity at times. A writer presents a slice of life; a slice, not the complete thing. He sees something in his head and for it to be natural and true to his imagination there ought to be a lot of things he hasn’t seen, or will see later when he specifically looks for them. I know Amminikutty only to the extent I have seen her so far. I could look deeper and dig her nature up further, but that’s the stuff of another story. In this context I have always found something very curious since college days – In Othello, there’s no reference to Desdemona’s mother at all. Is the mother dead? Is she away somewhere? I think the truth is, whatever happened to the mother, Shakespeare hasn’t seen her, and that’s that. (Always made me wonder what would be Desdemona’s nature if she had a mother to light her way; would she be quite so tactless then?)


16- Writers who have influenced you?

Several, but when you ask now the three names that come up are Dostoevsky, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mark Twain. I keep revisiting these three gentlemen.


17- What are you reading at the moment?

I usually keep two books by my bedside – one fiction and the other something on brain science or astronomy or something. Right now, however, both are fiction. I’m reading the wonderful Light in August by William Faulkner, and taking breaks in between with Han Kang’s The Vegetarian.


18- You met your wife when studying literature. How has she contributed to your career as a writer?

My wife and I are proof that method and madness will fall in love. I literally owe my life to the leash she keeps me on. On a less serious note, she is always my first reader. She patiently goes through my work and her suggestions usually inspire me to write more. But her main contribution to my career has been her selfless love which creates the environment to write. There, now it’s alright if she reads this interview!


19- Advice you would give to young aspiring writers.

I would begin by saying I haven’t come too far from being an aspiring writer myself, though maybe not a very young one anymore. But that doesn’t stop me from telling one thing to all aspiring writers – come unshackled. If you are born to be a writer then you have wings, so do not build a cage around yourself. I see that people become victims of style, trends, even thoughts and isms, and it gives them writing cramps. Invent your own words if you need, be mad with your plot and create your own technique. You can read others all you like – you must – but when you’re writing, be on your own. I think originality and spontaneity are becoming scarce in the writing of our times.


20- You have two dogs, Yippee and Tuffy. How have they contributed to Karuthupuzha? When I observed the personification of nature in the books, my first thought was, he does it so well because of the dogs. Haha.

Well yes, honestly. Sitting with Yippee and Tuffy often reminds me that we are part of nature too. We have just come so far away with our sophistry that we forget to be curious. A dog is quite as curious about a new toy as about a UFO. To him stones and leaves and rabbits and humans are all equally alive and exciting! My dogs make me very happy, energized and connected to the world outside the musty elevator of human beings. In fact I’ll go so far as to say that all writers must keep dogs.


About your short story ‘The Biggest Enemy of Rain’ in The Bombay Literary Magazine

The following paras are from your story.

But the romance in his head vaporized somewhat when Kavitha polished a shocking amount of rice, more pieces of fried chicken than a man could eat and three ice-creams of different flavours. He could see the waiters, who were his subordinates, nudge each other and giggle and build a story for later.

This behavior was borne out of one curious trend, which I have seen in many of our families. Gopi, too, learned it soon after his marriage. It was simply that his wife Kavitha had a mother who had always taught her, right from when she was very small, that the whole point of a girl’s life was to get married. You needed to work towards it, she said. You needed to observe certain rules. Eat less so that you don’t put on weight, talk softly as becomes a girl of good upbringing, do not show your teeth while laughing, do not stare at people however curious they make you, avoid talking or laughing loudly in the presence of young men, always show an interest in womanly duties like washing vessels and cleaning the table, never come out of your room in the morning without taking a bath first, and many more. Her mother told her that it was tough observing all these, yes, but the reward was that you needed to observe them only until you were married. The moment you tied the knot – provided you tied it on the right man – you were free. All the effort towards getting a good husband would have paid off then, and you had a lifetime of relaxation ahead.

Now that Kavitha was married, she was free. During the months following the wedding Gopi saw that his wife was exercising her newfound freedom almost every moment, rapidly letting go the beautiful, nubile girl he had fallen for.


1- Please tell us your motive behind using this in the story. It is one of my favourites. Made me laugh out loud.

My motive, as always, has been what I have observed in my own family and in others. This actually happens, at least in Kerala. It was more pronounced may be until the 80s, but it still does happen that mothers kind of ‘train’ their daughters so that they are ‘good girls’ in the marriage market. And indeed, the poor girl does feel immensely free once she is married and very often her newfound freedom is hilariously visible.

You know, when we were kids we could say “Statue” to a friend and then he had to stand like a statue and not move at all even if we slapped him. It was a game. Our marriages were like that. The critical buildup is till the knot is tied. In the game of marriage, after the knot is tied there’s no going back. It’s hilarious how in our films the villain sometimes kidnaps the girl and forcibly ties the knot. Once it’s tied she cannot do anything. He has said his “Statue”!


Thank you!

Buy his book here

Amazon India, Amazon, Crossword India, Uread, Flipkart, Infibeam, Snapdeal


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Interview 6- Kaushik Barua

Interview 6- Kaushik Barua

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He is the winner of the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar award for his first book, Windhorse (HarperCollins India, 2013).

This interview will mostly cover his second book, No Direction Rome (HarperCollins India, 2015) and his short story ‘So far away from home (North East Review, 2015).

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Hello Krantik, I mean Kaushik. (Pun intended)

I have just re-read your book ‘No Direction Rome’. It reads like a literary thriller and satire. Can’t wait to begin the interview!


About your books

  1. Your first book ‘Windhorse’ won you the ‘Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar 2014’. How did the book/award change you?

I like to believe the award didn’t change me. That my writing holds enough satisfaction and terror for me to not depend on external validation or criticism. But then I would be inflating the significance of my writing, even for myself. 

I only see the change when it is brought to my attention. When in response to a question about the award, I can indulge in such convoluted and contradictory arguments.  

I am glad that the award, especially received for Windhorse, brought some attention to the story of the resistance that inspired Windhorse (and for which I can take no credit). 

There, you have it: I’ve already written a few paragraphs contemplating or belittling or denying the influence of the award on my life. That probably says something I can’t deny. 

More about the book in the following questions.


  1. You haven’t formally studied literature. Tell us how you managed a great debut with Harper Collins (for the benefit of ever hungry writers’ souls).

I was lucky to receive a book contract with very little effort. And lucky that Karthika, who was then editor in chief of HarperCollins, spotted the potential of the story.

I never formally studied literature.All of us greedy readers are students of literature. And I think not formally studying literature helps one flirt with different genres or styles, without being burdened by their historical significance. 


  1. ‘No Direction Rome’ is different in tone/theme and many other aspects in comparison to your first book. Was switching styles easy?

I didn’t find it as difficult as one would imagine.  I live multiple lives (like so many of us, so I wouldn’t lay claim to a uniquely diverse set of experiences): an Assamese who grew up in 1980s Guwahati, forever stained by the indifference of a larger nation state, an economics student (and wannabe researcher- I can no longer claim to be an economist, but still follow most major debates in the subject, especially debates happening at the intersection with other subjects), a relatively privileged international professional (insanely privileged in the broader context of global inequity), a development professional with the good fortune to travel to many different countries, spending long periods in villages to implement rural development projects, and meet people from fantastically different backgrounds.

I don’t consciously choose from different genres (again helped by the fact that I have no great regard for such classifications). I try to pick and choose words, scenes, characters, cadences or conversations from the different chambers in my life. And of course from different books or movies. 


  1. How long did it take you to write NDR and were you apprehensive of the response?

It took me about half a year: it’s a slim novel with emphasis on the voice and tone more than the plot or characterization. I wanted to experiment with a new voice. In taking that risk, I was exposing myself to some criticism.  That’s okay: like a coward, I have many different lives as possible retreats. 


  1. I enjoyed the satirical tone of the book. Were you worried about the backlash from readers who lack a sense of humour?

I definitely wasn’t worried enough not to try it. 


  1. Krantik is an atheist. Are you?

I am. However, I recognize that being an atheist is also a matter of belief and vulnerable to some of the same biases and prejudices that atheists complacently believe afflict only people of faith. 


  1. How was the book received in Rome? Has NDR been published outside India?

It hasn’t been published in Rome or Italy yet. The New York based publishing house, Permanent Press, will publish it in the US in late 2017. I hear they have a discerning set of editors and a small solid literary list (publishing only about 15 titles a year). I’m hopeful that it’ll do well, but my hope is tempered by the vagaries of the publishing industry.


 

  1. What do you have to say about the ‘irreverent’ tone of the book? Do you consider yourself a courageous writer?

No Direction Rome has a truly irreverent tone (and I believe reveals much about our indifferent generation). I’m not sure if that alone comprises courage. If I may use such a grandiose term, I would think Windhorse required far more courage, the exercise of which is often more tedious and dogged than one dramatic gesture. The novel needed years and years of back breaking research: reading archives, collecting video footage, gathering oral histories, and thinking over months about the motivation of a small group of rebels who waged an impossible war, whose lives were radically different from mine. But again, I did the whole exercise because I was fascinated, to the point of obsession, with the Tibetan refugee community and their struggles.  


  1. The prose is experimental. Digression is a pattern in the book. Any comments?

I probably should have mentioned the ‘research’ and preparation earlier. NDR also required extensive research, participatory in this case. I spent hundreds of hours on various online forums and sites, studying (only intuitively, not using any fancy analytical tools) how conversations progress online. Also how we interact with the online world: forever switching tabs, following our thoughts along maddening tangents, diving into a rabbit hole of endless images and ideas and memes. I wanted to mimic that sense of constant digression, the inability to hold a thought for longer than it takes to click on the next tab, the disconnectedness (the vague anaesthetic distaste we feel with ourselves after hours spent online), the extreme solipsism and the painful self-awareness of the first generation to live their lives online. It’s obviously not the perfect recipe for a coherent narrative (and I imagine could be frustrating for some readers), but I selfishly enjoyed the process. 


  1. How did the themes of both your books come to you?

Windhorse came to me in a bookstore (dramatic,also true) in Dharamshala, when I stumbled upon a real life ex-resistance fighter: Lhasang Tsering. He introduced me to his colleagues and friends from the erstwhile resistance and they were all unbelievably generous with their tales (I told them from the beginning that I wanted to fictionalize the story). 

The voice for No Direction Rome came from a few disparate sources: the tiredness that followed Windhorse, some friends’ long term experiments with various intoxicants, another friend’s failed suicide attempt (the friend is now thankfully reconciled to the failure) and, most of all, time spent online (all those hours I thought were wasted). 


  1. You work in Rome. Is there an expat writer’s circle there?

Not at the moment. We had a group for a year or two. A few people moved and the group withered. I would really like a group of fellow writers to critique my work regularly. I will have to do without such regular peer review for some time, I suspect. 


  1. I like the commentary of the social media world we are part of, in the book. Didn’t you worry it would sound banal?

Where it sounds banal, hopefully it succeeds in reflecting the banality of the online world. Now I realize that is also expecting a lot from the text: reflecting and internalizing the banality of the world, not just in theme but also in the voice, while at the same time slyly hinting to the reader that Krantik, the character, is an overenthusiastic observer of the banality and not a participant.   


  1. Why the Colloseum? Isn’t it a cliché like Eiffel Tower-Paris?

I cross the Colosseum every day on my way to work. I decided, on a whim, that I wanted it to feature prominently in my next book. Writing pays so little, the least we can do is feed our whims. 


  1. Didn’t you worry that using ‘shit’ a lot in the book is risky. Isn’t the humour easily exhausted in it?

There is a rich history of scatological humour in books. But the scatology in NDR came from a different starting point. I wanted to portray a slightly exaggerated or grotesque version of the all-revealing, all publicising nature of social media. Taken to its extreme (not really an extreme, just a shifting of the norms), Krantik sharing over-specific details on bowel movements is not so surprising. In fact, people share far more ghastly emotional details online. Yes, the humour could be exhausted easily: as is the case with any specific kind of humour. I found it childishly and constantly amusing (perhaps I should be worried about that). 


  1. There is no reason or genesis to show why Krantik is a cynic in the book. Has it always been his nature or was there a turning point?

If there was a turning point, I have left it outside the book. I think we always demand some evolution or satisfying arc from our tales. Sometimes things just are or remain as they are: not going anywhere, onlymoving in circles or in madly tightening whirls around a central question or an absence. I wanted to capture a kind of stasis instead of a satisfying dynamism. 


  1. You have repeatedly used celebrity names in the book. What was the intention behind it other than to highlightthe obvious worship culture we seem to project towards them?

The world of social media is also a world where we could all possibly be fleeting Warholian celebrities. And conversely, celebrities are demystified. Surprisingly, this easy access to celebrities (the terms of the access probably determined by some smart social media strategies) only seems to enhance their divinity. I wanted to capture some of the current fluidity around the nature of celebrity.


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About your short story ‘ So far away from me’

It is a short story about ‘cyber voyuerism’, ‘heartbreak’ and more.

  1. How did you conceive the story?

From the idea that we are all constantly being violated by voyeurs and stalkers in the online world but, in a twisted way, we have all provided consent to the institutions and systems that enable this voyeurism (I’m sure no one is naïve enough to believe there is complete privacy in the world of social media).

  1. Your work is very contemporary in a way because of the commentary on how our lives revolve around social media. Did this happen organically or did you consciously decide to write in such a way?

It has evolved over the last few years, especially this obsession with the anonymous urban angst of our times. But my writing is a capricious beast, and might change again.

  1. How did readers receive it?

I think it changed their lives! Of course, I’m joking. I don’t really know. I got a more than perfunctory or expected response in terms of social media likes, messages and other forms of engagement, and they helped to create the satisfying feeling or illusion that some people who read the story liked it a lot.

I know you’re a committed and discerning reader. So the fact that the story resonated with you is heartening.


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Miscellaneous 

 

  1. Any advice to young ambitious writers?

I would suggest she should abandon one of the two: ambition or writing. If she abandons writing, I have no advice worth offering. If she persists with writing, I have some very questionable advice: read every day, read across genres, read people if a book is not available, write as often as possible. 


  1. Books that changed you?

There were no a-ha revelatory books, but a slow osmosis over time and through many books. There were many that influenced both my views on the world and my writing. Here’s a quick off-the-cuff list of books (this may change completely when you ask me the next time) that influenced me, and what I found most striking:

-Most of Graham Greene: The cinematic quality of his writing, empathy for a wide range of characters and people (sometimes coloured with healthy doses of ‘benevolent colonialism’), investigating the nature of doubt and faith in everyday people.

-David Foster Wallace (especially his essays): Effortlessly moulding language, heightened self-awareness and awareness of his generation (also ours?)

-Chuck Palahniuk: the breakneck pace, the ability to capture a mood in a fleeting image

-MamoniRaisomGoswami: Tales from home that brought newness to familiar scenes

-Cormac McCarthy: Painting the apocalypse with such terror and hope

-Sylvia Plath: Brutal honesty, 20-20 vision at the edge of the abyss

-Neil Gaiman: Breaking rules, jumping across genres, having bucket-loads of fun (or so it seems)

-Junot Diaz (Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) and recently Paul Beatty (The Sellout): Exploring histories and injustices with a sharp eye and rousing humour


  1. What is your take on the very famous Italian writer Elena Ferrante and the whole hype about her identity?

I have devoured her books since I discovered them (a very belated discovery- I only started a year ago when a dear friend recommended her work) and enjoyed how she managed to cover both the grand sweep of recent history and the texture of intimacy.

I think she has the right to her privacy and anonymity, a right many more of us may wish for soon. I didn’t read the article that revealed her identity, and don’t wish to. If she wants to interact with a reader within the margins of her story, I’m totally fine with meeting her only through her books and her chosen name. 


  1. What’s next? A short story collection? Poetry?

I’ve just had the horrifically cathartic experience of abandoning a book I was working on.  After about 50,000 words, enough to know the voice is not working entirely to my satisfaction, also enough for me to have become attached to the novel. It was a brutal murder in the tradition of killing one’s darlings. Once I recover, I’m open to trying different forms or stories.


  1. You have written non-fiction before. Do you prefer fiction?

I currently prefer fiction. I know, especially in our times, there is immense scope for story telling through non-fiction as well. Also, given the bewildering ways in which the world is changing, for example the fact that people with varying political views basically live in alternate realities, I think one could even explore new genres in non-fiction. 


  1. The question you hate the most.

Why do you write?


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Thank you!

 You can buy his books here:

No Direction Rome

Windhorse


 

Interview 5- Janice Pariat

Interview 5-  Janice Pariat

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Janice Pariat is a North East Indian writer. She is the author of Boats on Land, a short story collection [Recipient of 2013 Sahitya Akademi Young Writer Award and the 2013 Crossword Book Award for fiction] and Seahorse, a novel.

This interview was conducted through e-mail. We discuss her short story Fish-eye (based on the theme- gender violence) which was published on the Out of Print blog in April 2015.

Read it here on Open Road Review.

 

Jaggery contributor Namrata Poddar writes an interesting article on ‘Show don’t tell’

As Maggie Awadalla and Paul March-Russell suggest in the introduction to their anthology The Postcolonial Short Story (2012), many non-Western countries did not transition “organically” from oral to written storytelling with a rise in capitalism.

For many formerly or currently colonized spaces like South Asia, Africa, Caribbean, American South and Native America, there has always existed a rich, vibrant tradition of oral storytelling, one that was marginalized, often violently, through an imposition of an allegedly modern, white Western language and culture.

Read more here.

Two very useful articles on ‘Getting Published In A Literary Magazine’

This article titled ‘The Ultimate Guide To Getting Published In A Literary Magazine‘ by Lincoln Michel is very useful for new writers.

Lincoln is the editor-in-chief of Electric Literature, an awesome literary website.

Highlights of the article:

  • Emerging writers should keep in mind that online is forever. If you publish your early work in a print magazine, a few years down the line it will basically disappear unless you choose to include it in a future collection. If you get to be an established writer, only someone willing to go plough through the stacks of a university’s library archives is going to see it.

 

  • It’s nice to get a lot of publishing credits, but honestly, after a couple, they don’t really matter unless the work is good. I’ve seen some writers who published seemingly 50 pieces a year in decent journals, yet who took forever to sell a book because the work was rushed and uneven. 

 

Another article is ‘How to Submit Your Writing to Literary Magazines’  by the editorial team of Neon literary magazine is amazing.

Highlights of the article:

  • The first step is to find a magazine that you’d like to be published in, and which publishes the kind of thing you write.

 

  • If, however, the guidelines provided by the magazine have nothing to say about how you should format your work, you can use standard manuscript format. Rather than providing a long description of standard manuscript format, I’ll instead refer you to the expert. William Shunn is the definitive source on manuscript preparation, and on his site you’ll find easy-to-follow instructions on how to format your work.

 

  • A few magazines will ask you to paste your work into the main body of the email, rather than sending it as an attachment. This is easy to do, but can cause problems. Your perfectly formatted manuscript can end up looking a mess once you’ve transferred it to an email.To prevent this, copy and paste the text from your manuscript into Notepad (or another basic text editor). Then copy and paste it again from there into the email. This strips away unnecessary formatting, and ensures a clean and tidy result. You might need to play around with the spacing while you have the text in Notepad, but this little extra effort is very much worth the result.

Indian writing in English, Literary Magazines and Lessons Learnt

A note on Indian writing in English, Literary Magazines and Lessons Learnt

This blog post, I hope, will have some takeaways for aspiring writers and readers from India.

It contains my recommendations of books by contemporary Anglophone Indian writers, the role of literary magazines in shaping the careers of new writers in India and lessons I have learnt.

(i) Books by Indian writers in English- Recommendations

I am 24 now.

My reading was restricted to contemporary popular American and British fiction for most of my life. But I did read The Namesake by Indian-American literary author Jhumpa Lahiri and I aspired to be like her. To be able to move NRIs like I had been on reading her work.

I am an Indian, born and raised in Bahrain.

I was in Bangalore for a few years, for higher studies. There I attended many literature fests, panel discussions etc. If not anything else it made me aware of the pulse of Indian writing in English.

India has Ravinder Singh, Durjoy Dutta, Nikita Singh and others who are famous for their love stories. India has also witnessed many good literary writers in the recent years.

Since I did not study literature formally I decided to read contemporary literary fiction by Anglophone Indian writers to learn from their books first-hand.


Some literary Anglophone Indian writing I have read in these past few years:

Window Seat, Janhavi Acharekar

Rebirth, Jahnavi Barua

Next Door: Stories, Jahnavi Barua

No Direction Rome, Kaushik Barua

First Love, Brinda Charry

Lunatic in my head by Anjum Hasan

Neti, neti by Anjum Hasan

If you are afraid of heights, Raj Kamal Jha

The Blue Bedspread, Raj Kamal Jha

Manan, Mohit Parikh

Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, Kiran Desai

Transit For Beginners, Rheea Mukherjee

Family Life, Akhil Sharma (Indian-American)

Ghachar Ghochar, Vivek Shanbhag (Translation)


Outstanding books from all:

  • Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto-

This was a random pick from the Indian fiction section at Blossoms Bookstore, Bangalore. Blossoms sells second hand books of different genres. The cover did play some role in my purchase decision. Loved the novel.

Readers: Do Read for the exquisite prose and throbbing pain of the protagonist who has a mother suffering from mental illness. It is an autobiographical novel.

Writers: The author took many years to arrive at this. This is a lesson for writers who are impatient. If you want to write a novel that matters, do take your time with it. Do not rush into self-publishing your manuscript which is hurriedly written and barely edited.


  • Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph

Again, this was a random pick at Blossoms. Loved it.

Readers: Do Read for the humour, suspense, for the character Ousep Chacko’s pain of losing a child to suicide, brilliant prose and plot. It is a semi-autobiographical novel.

Writers: Want to write a book that has well-written prose and will keep your readers hooked to the plot? This is it.


  •  Rebirth by Jahnavi Barua

Again, this was a random pick at Blossoms. Loved it.

Readers: Read for the voice of the narrator/mother, smooth prose, for a glimpse of the life of a North East Indian in Bangalore. Barua is Assamese and so is her protagonist.

Writers: Want to write a story that will make your readers take a breath of relief from this hyperlinked, distracted, impatient world? This is it.


  •  Family Life by Akhil Sharma

This I read thanks to all the amazing reviews online and a writer friend’s Goodreads 5 star rating.

Readers:  Read for excellent prose, for the protagonist’s pain of having a sibling whose brain damaged. It is an autobiographical novel. It was disturbing for me but the book is worth the pain.

Writers:  This book does everything right so you will know what you should never do.


  • Manan by Mohit Parikh

I had attended Toto Funds the Arts 2015 in Bangalore. Mohit won Creative writing in English for his story The stroller in the supermarket. Amazing story. It is published in The Identity Theory.

Readers:  Read Manan for the refreshing prose, for an intriguing commentary of growing up in 1990s in India.

Writers: Write what you know.


  • No Direction Rome by Kaushik Barua

Readers: Read for the sheer freshness, humour, experimental prose.

Writers: Risk it and rock it.


  • Transit For Beginners  by Rheea Mukherjee

Will discuss in detail below.


  • Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

This is a translation from Kannada by Srinath Perur.

Readers:  Must read for the gripping story about a joint family who doesn’t know how to deal with sudden prosperity, for characters, for smooth prose.

Writers: Awesome prose. You will learn a lot from Shanbhag’s storytelling abilities and Perur’s translation skills.


(ii) Literary Magazines

There a lot of literary magazines in India like Out of Print Magazine, Vayavya, Nether, Antiserious and more. You will find more on Helter Skelter’s list of 20 Places to Submit Creative Writing in India.


The benefits of submitting to literary magazines:

-You can create a network of writer friends who will help you push your limits.

– You will be noticed among the lot of emerging writers but of course that depends on your work also.

– You will learn from the editorial process.

Rejections help.

-They will keep you going till you have your debut book published.


The writers whose stories I have read online that make me want to buy their books are Annie Zaidi, Manu Bhattathiri, Jigar Brahmabhatt, Aravind Jayan, Prashila Naik, Arjun Rajendran, Sumana Roy, Nabina Das, Nandini Dhar and more.

The two writers I’m going to discuss in detail today have just published their debut books. Had it not been for literary magazines, I would not have been privy to their awesome prose.


Rheea Mukherjee’s debut short story collection Transit for Beginners was published by Singapore publisher Kitaab recently and Tanuj Solanki’s debut novel Neon Noon was published by Harper Collins India recently.


Rheea:

I had stumbled across Rheea’s short stories online in 2012. I had subscribed to Every Day Fiction. I had liked a few of the stories that I had read on their website so I decided to subscribe. I could unsubscribe anytime, right? Gladly I didn’t before I could read Rheea’s short story Small adjustments. It landed in my inbox on Nov 3, 2012. I loved it. I began tracking the writer’s stories online and each story kept me hooked.

The writer now has her debut collection published. Every story has characters so intriguing that you just cannot put the book down. Favourite stories from the collection are Hungry and Reckless though it is very tough to pick as all are good.

As a writer what I have learnt from her is that one must be patient and always aim higher. With every new piece, one must challenge themselves and never ever give up.

Highlight: She is an MFA graduate but you will find her voice unique, it is not dry at all. Her characters are very Indian and will stay with you for a long time.

The literary magazines she has been published in are Cha, QLRS, Bengal Lights etc.


Tanuj:

He has founded The Bombay Literary Magazine. I liked the work he had published so I decided to submit to the magazine. Until then I had only submitted to magazines which have almost 100% acceptance rate. So the editorial process at TBLM helped me a lot as a writer. He provides feedback with rejections.

The first story of his that I came across online was The Bachelor in The Burrow Press Review in 2014. It is now the first chapter of his novel. I could not appreciate it then as my reading had not evolved yet. A year later I read his story The Other Room in One Throne Magazine. It is a long story and I read it without a pause which you know is difficult online with distractions on the Internet and all. It was that interesting, yes. Amazing prose. I later got to know that One Throne has an acceptance rate of under 1%.

Since then I have read most of his stories online and what I have learnt as a writer is that write what you know, be true to yourself and your prose. Quality matters, not quantity.

His novel Neon Noon was recently published.

Highlight: His prose is arresting. His writing is experimental. He has learnt everything by autodidacticism. 

The literary magazines he has been published in are The Caravan, The Atticus Review, Identity Theory etc.


These two writers are not just awesome writers but great mentors too. They have contributed a lot to my writing journey. If I ever do publish something worthwhile I owe it to them.

And of course to my friends (writers, non-writers, editors) who beta read my work and make my life so much easier.


(iii) Lessons learnt

– Submit to magazines whose content you like. Where you think your piece might fit.

Learn from rejections. Being defensive doesn’t help.

Interact with the writers who have been published in magazines as you. Swap stories and beta read them. Win-win.

Read a lot. Read analytically. Read for pleasure.

-Write what truly moves you and not what you think might please the reader.

-Always aim to outdo your previous piece. Edit. Edit. Edit.

Quality is essential. Not quantity. Have I said this enough?

Do not get carried away by praise. Reserve them for low times but keep the constructive feedback in mind. Always.

-Above all, be patient. 

Hope this post helps!

Happy writing and reading!