White is for witching by Helen Oyeyemi

white is for witching

Well…I picked this because I have heard a lot about Helen, the prodigy, she’s only 33 and already an author of 5 critically acclaimed books. I was so excited to read one of her books. The title ‘White is for witching’ intrigued me and I decided to begin with it. It caught me offguard. Her style is so different from what I’ve read till now [some parallels could be drawn to Carmen Maria Machado and Stephen King (The Shining) for the horror, Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the shore), Etgar Keret and Kuzhali Manickavel for the surrealism, Sharanya Manivannan for the mythology infused in prose, however, her style feels like something I haven’t read before].

It was abstract, haunting (the house is a character here, when I read the house’s pov, I actually looked up at my wall and imagined eyes opening and it made me shudder), disorienting, it shifts between povs. I learnt of somethings which I hadn’t previously heard of like The heralding pelican who symbolises Jesus for its sacrificing quality. Then the Psychomanteum mirror-gazing, and Pica- the eating disorder…Some bits from the book pop out as being good and keeps you hooked but just when you are beginning to get the hang of it or so you think, Helen drags you away and throws you into the big dark forbidden forest again to find your way, it is very annoying.

I wonder how Helen has the confidence to write so erratically. Maybe her first two books are similar in approach. I remember having heard a talk by Zadie Smith on debut authors who don’t trust the reader and give a lot of backstory and that reflects on the severe self-doubt writers have. Helen is the opposite, it seems like she doesn’t owe the reader anything.  Half-way through the book, I realised my patience was wearing thin and it was highly likely that the book wouldn’t give me what I wanted from it even if I stuck around. This book isn’t for everyone. 


Updated: Notes on a scandal by Zoë Heller

I have been recently watching a lot of Booktube videos. One of my favourite Booktuber is Jen Campbell who is a writer herself. She is also a judge for the Forward Poetry Prize. She does amazing ‘Dissect a poem‘ videos which will help those who are learning to analyse poems. In one of her bookshelf tour video she mentioned the book ‘Notes on a scandal’ by Zoe Heller. The titled intrigued me. I didn’t read anything about the book before actually reading it as I usually prefer to discover the story directly from the book/film.


I began reading the book immediately and it kept me hooked because of the narrator’s voice. The narrator, Barbara, seemed wise, longing for true friendship and interesting in general. The story is more about the narrator’s life and her observations of the characters than just her version of the scandal to disprove all the media coverage. The reader is aware that she claims to be Sheba’s close friend hence, an unreliable narrator as her biases being a close friend will definitely reflect in the way she tells us the story, what details she chooses to reveal, conceal etc. but just how exactly unreliable was revealed to me only in the last line of the novel.

It gave me goosebumps and it dawned on me just how ‘unreliable’ she was and when I saw the film immediately after finishing the book it confirmed my doubts. She isn’t as sincere a friend as we might have thought she was, the whole film shows her as sinister, plotting, selfish and lonely to the point of being a sociopath. She is very possessive of Sheba, the new teacher who has an affair with the young boy Connolly. It makes one empathise with the narrator’s loneliness (her cat’s death, Bang’s rejection etc.) but also afraid of her motives. 

The film is overt and portrays her as the antagonist from the start whereas the book is subtle. It’s her account and manages to convince us that the narrator is innocent, for most part of it, atleast. Reminded me of another unreliable narrator from Lolita. In this book the narrator Barbara distracts the reader by making us judge for ourselves whether Sheba is innocent or guilty thus removing the spotlight of judgment from herself, it’s cleverly done.

The narrator’s sister’s family is missing in the film. Sheba’s difficult daughter which added to Sheba’s problematic married life is downplayed in the film and other details differentiate the film from the book but both the book and the film tell the story in their own brilliant and breathtaking  way.

Cate Blanchett is perfect for the dreamy character of Sheba and Judi Dench for the sinister narrator.

cate and judi

A couple of paras from the book:

There are certain people in whom you can detect the seeds of madness—seeds that have remained dormant only because the people in question have lived relatively comfortable, middleclass lives. They function perfectly well in the world, but you can imagine, given a nasty parent, or a prolonged bout of unemployment, how their potential for craziness might have been realised—how their seeds might have sprouted little green shoots of weirdness, or even, with the right sort of antinurture, blossomed into full-blown lunacy. It occurred to me now, as I watched him sink down into his beanbag, that Brian Bangs was one of these people.


Why, I find myself silently asking my confiders, are you telling me? Of course, I know why, really. They tell me because they regard me as safe. Sheba, Bangs, all of them, they make their disclosures to me in the same spirit that they might tell a castrato or a priest—with a sense that I am so outside the loop, so remote from the doings of the great world, as to be defused of any possible threat. The number of secrets I receive is in inverse proportion to the number of secrets anyone expects me to have of my own. And this is the real source of my dismay. Being told secrets is not—never has been—a sign that I belong or that I matter. It is quite the opposite: confirmation of my irrelevance.




The book describes mother-daughter relations well. Especially the complex difficult ones. The narrator and her mother. Sheba and her mother. Sheba and her daughter Polly. The narrator tells Sheba that children add meaning to a woman’s life. Sheba denies this (she has her hands too full with Ben, her son, who has down syndrome and her difficult teen daughter Polly).

This exploration of mother-child relations reminded me of a film I recently saw called ‘The Joy Luck Club’ based on Amy Tan’s novel. It’s a must watch.



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.


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.


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


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).


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.


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.




  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?

* * *

Thank you!

 You can buy his books here:

No Direction Rome



My review of Neon Noon by Tanuj Solanki

This book read like a literary thriller. Loved it. Learnt from it.

Some thoughts about the experience (Spoiler alert):


Do read the blurb of the book for the plot and then read my review. I recently read Manasi Subramaniam’s article ‘Writing a blurb for a book? It’s as hard as creating your Tinder profile’. As I finished reading Neon Noon, I remembered her article. That got me thinking of my version of a blurb for the book.

Mine would include this disclaimer:

For all those who are wary of love/ heartbreak stories that Anglophone Indian writing has seen recently and for those who haven’t read Solanki before- This is anything but a cliché heartbreak story.

As the narrator ‘T’ is a writer, he acknowledges the fact that a love story has the risk of sounding cheesy in this line on Page 105:

What I felt, when I first looked at her in her simplicity, was a surpising connectedness, in a way that does not necessitate splendour- and I know this sounds mushy. It was this very apprehension of sentimentality that, along with the poverty of my lexicon and my lack of literary depth, had made me wary of mentioning the word connection.



I had read a slightly different version of the first chapter of part one as a short story titled ‘the Other Room’ (the story had reminded me of the Malayalam movie ‘Bangalore Days’) in an online magazine about a year ago. In an interview, the author says about ‘the other room’-

“The Other Room” is the room of secrets, of secrets that are traumatic, maybe. Basically the mental space that we roil inside in self-pity, but bar others from entering. I believe we do that because we are afraid of being healed, of losing the assurance and false privacy that a secret offers us.

The story presents a physical ‘other room’ but it is symbolic as his answer clearly conveys.


Page 37-
He also knows that this is how he is, a person who takes on a Herculean task with an indelible faith in his own doggedness, eventually ending up with mixed results.

In addition to the context in which this line is used which you will know when you read the book, it got me thinking- T (the narrator) is also talking about his relationship with his ex-girlfriend? He is talking about a potential novel he had attempted and abandoned?

Page 51-

In the front yard of the house we are in, two belled and furred calves of a milk-giving animal I would like to name exactly (likely a cross between a cow and a yak) chew on a dried stalk amidst their own knotty, fragrant dung.

The mention of the cross between a cow and a yak might have something to do with Orhan, T’s imaginary unborn son, who is half French and half Indian?

Tanuj has also used references of wars to highlight the heartbreak tragedy. I did not find the references digressing at all. It is a controlled narrative.



Dialogues are genuine. The words don’t appear contrived. As if the characters aren’t fictional.


‘Why you come to Pattaya?’ she asked.
‘I am on a vacation,’ I said.
‘But why? If you hap girlfriend?’ she said.
‘I told you. She is not my girlfriend anymore.’


Exposition and drama:

This novel balances the two very well.



The narrator ‘T’ has empathy for the characters.

This line speaks volumes: ‘To wish to be forgotten by the beloved is a soul-task harder far than trying not to forget’.

Also the author Tanuj’s empathy is not only restricted to the prostitutes in Pattaya. But also for ‘S’, the girl in Mumbai, who questions her morality.

As I read about the plight of prostitutes in Pattaya I couldn’t help but think of prostitutes in India and how the novel would have turned out had it been set in India alone but the point of vacationing in Pattaya was for ‘T’ to be a tourist. A tourist is granted a certain anonymity and it is easier to forget things transpired in another country.

The narrator acknowledges and counters this notion on Page 159:

‘…That I was supposed to forget things I did with Pattaya whores, for what use were these memories going to be. But then what was the point of coming to Pattaya, I also asked myself. What was it, if all that could be done here was fuck whores and if that action was not to leave any trace in memory.’



This could have been just another heartbreak story. What makes this different is the structure, the writing and more. But for me the plot stood out the most:

Reason for break-up: Not mentioned. Is it necessary to mention the reason? He does mention that T’s ex-girlfriend might have left in search of happiness. (His empathy for her search for happiness is magnified because happiness is abstract. He regrets not having understood the specificity of happiness for her. He tries to undo this mistake with Noon and he makes this ‘learning from his mistake’ evident to the reader.) The absence of a concrete reason of break-up also highlights the narrator’s plight at not getting a closure from the break-up.

This reminded me of a short story: Following Water by Janice Pariat which ends with the line:
“You tell me why we’re looking for water on Mars,” said Sheba, “and I’ll tell you why he stayed behind.”

This book only includes details which the author feels are the most essential to the story. Everything else is sieved very carefully and that has made all the difference. What could have made this story stale is the explanation of the genesis of the relationship, the reason for the break-up and more.



Page 176:

‘Yes. Many poems. There is a poem about ______ opening into an impenetrable dark. ________digging a hole. I think that one borrows__________.’

The author uses blanks amidst the text. Here loud music is used as a trope to introduce the blanks in the dialogue. The music hinders the narrator’s hearing, hence the blanks but the author has used blanks in his previous pieces too. It is part of his style. Two pieces that come to mind is ‘The Geometry of the gaze’ in Litro and ‘The Mechanics of Silence’ in Vayavya.

When I asked the author about why he did so. He said he wanted the reader to think, to fill in the blanks.


Literature :

The prose is poetic. (Page 119-I think she kissed me then. Not a big one, just a little peck on the lips, the kind that lovers come to love more than the big ones till the big ones become so scarce that those little pecks begin to feel like violent scratches’.) Such beautiful similes/metaphors throughout the book make you overlook a trite metaphor like ‘Dark as charcoal’- Page 186.

The book appears like it is in the process of being written while we read it. It is a conscious trope used as the narrator is a writer.



For me, the book seemed like a quarter-life crisis novel. There is the heartbreak, the boredom with the job, the guilt of being immoral. It will resonate more with readers aged 20-30.



When the narrator shows traits of being nihilistic in Part 3 of the book, this line from the Bible came to mind:

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?


Surprise element:

In Part 3 of the book, there is a surprise element which would make a reader wonder if the book is autobiographical. Autobiographical or not, it feels like a personal tale which aims at shedding light on the universality of love and heartbreak.


I wish for a sequel.

Review of Tendai Huchu’s novel ‘The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician’

A review of Tendai Huchu’s novel ‘The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician’ has included a question from my interview with him:

In an interview Huchu was asked how immigration affected his writing and his response was caustic: “The funny thing is that when some white dude writes a novel set anywhere in Africa or Asia, it’s never referred to as an immigrant novel. They just have the right to be where they want to be and to write what they want.” That’s exactly what Huchu did with this piece of work – he wrote the story that he wanted to write. If our assumptions and myopia created a certain set of expectations, then that was our mistake, not his.

Read the review hereRead my interview with him here.