The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Tabish Khair
By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
Good question! I wish I knew. It is either like a person breathing or an alcoholic drinking, depending on the day.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
I have just finished a study of xenophobia. And I am finishing a novel on a very topical issue: the current rhetoric of jihad etc. The only way to find out what I had in mind while writing them would be to read them. Preferably, after buying a copy of each. Preferably, after buying two copies of each – one for your friend, one for yourself.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
Is there one? Apart from good coffee?
Who are your favourite authors?
Shakespeare, Rumi, Emily Brönte, Ghalib, Stendhal, Joseph Conrad, Gogol, Kafka, Swift, Twain, Italo Svevo, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, Brecht, Camus, Proust in small doses, H. C. Andersen sometimes, W. B Yeats, Ismat Chughtai, R. K. Narayan, Philip K. Dick, Naguib Mahfouz, Achebe, Roberto Bolano, Arun Kolatkar, Mahasweta Devi, Jennifer Egan, Anne Carson, and a handful of others I have probably forgotten at this moment.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
Any serious, extended piece is just as challenging for me. Including the seriously funny ones. It is a challenge every time. A different challenge, but not a lesser one.
What’s your idea of bliss?
Honestly? A million dollar royalty check.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
Mostly major authors who review books without really reading them, and rich, powerful people who think that their opinions are correct just because no one has dared critique them to their faces.
What book/s would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
Ghalib and Shakespeare. And of course a good cook book.
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
If you are thinking of ‘things’ and not people: my passport. An immigrant without a valid passport these days? You might as well let yourself burn! Or drown.
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
It is not a bad sentence.
Born and educated up to his MA in Gaya, Bihar, India, Tabish Khair, PhD (Copenhagen), DPhil (Aarhus), is now an associate professor at Aarhus University (Denmark) and is the author of a number of books, including studies, poetry collections and novels. He worked as a part-time teacher in Gaya and a staff reporter for the Times of India in Delhi, before toiling as a house painter, dish-washer, delivery boy etc. in Copenhagen, while studying for his PhD. Winner of the All India Poetry Prize and fellowships at Hong Kong, Delhi and Cambridge, Khair’s novels have been shortlisted for the Encore Award (UK), Vodafone Crossword Award (India), Hindu Best Fiction Prize (India), Man Asian Literature Prize (Hong Kong/UK), DSC Prize for South Asia (UK/India), Aloa Prize (Denmark) etc. His latest novel, How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position, was dubbed “unmissable” by the Times and “irreverent, intelligent, explosive” by Independent.