The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Abha Iyengar

abha-iyengarLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

There is an inherent restlessness in me, i.e. in my mind; it shoots out incessant electrical impulses which have to find an outlet. Writing does that, it acts like a voltage stabilizer, and channelizes this restlessness into something meaningful, something of stability. For example, I may look at the leaf turning in the wind from green to silver-grey, and think of Robin Hood in his green vest as a young boy and wonder what happens to him when his hair turns silver-grey, with the winds of age? And till I translate this into writing, it will make my mind go round and round this thought, mulling over it, adding to it, till I write it down. It is a form of momentary torment if I don’t write it down. I may let it go, and then it is a lost impulse, and I feel as though I have missed something. Little thoughts like these gather momentum and need expression. I wonder if this is an explanation at all, but this is how I feel. I must write.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My most recent publication is The Gourd Seller and Other Stories, a collection of short stories published by Kitaab. What was I trying to say? That the short story has its space and can have as much an impact in its telling as a novel will. That stories matter, whether in the form of flash, or a novel. Each form is just a means of relating with the world, and trying to understand existence. Tough job, that, so stories help us in knowing that there are many like us, there is a universality to all things, and we are not alone in our battle with the forces of dark and light. That underneath the everyday mundane, lies the truth to each life lived.

the-gourd-seller-199x300I am now working on a short story collection of some 10-12 stories, based loosely on the theme of “Together”. I wrote a story for the Lit Bulb project which was based on this theme, and then I just wrote another story, and another. It is a very loose structuring around that theme, but if you look closely, you would be able to understand that a thread is running through, but otherwise, they really are totally different stories.

I am also revisiting a novella I had written earlier. It needs some work on it, more research and more thinking, and more body.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I want to be writing all the time. If I have a story I am toying with, even if I am attending to something else, my subconscious will be grappling with the plot or the setting. I find myself so much in the throes of this, that I may often appear absent-minded or preoccupied.

Writing is my aesthetic. There is no such thing that things have to be so, either in terms of time or place. I just have to want to put all the clamouring thoughts in my mind down, that’s all, and the writing will then provide the order and the beauty and the shape and the aesthetic if you will, to what I want to say. If I don’t do that, well, that’s one more story I have let fly out. That is why for me it becomes so important to have time to myself.

Who are your favourite authors?

Harper Lee, Leon Uris, Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, James Clavell, Neil Gaiman, Paolo Bacigalupi, Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz, Jorge Luis Borges, Khalid Hosseini, Munshi Premchand, Manto, Kim Addonizzio, Neruda, Sahir Ludhianvi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz…there is no end to the favourite authors and poets. I wouldn’t know where to stop.

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

Shrayan was my first foray into writing the novel, and I chose to write fantasy! Its protagonist is alien, a half-human, half-beast creature who finds himself in our world, and not only our world, but in India. He is looking for love, friendship, a home and acceptance. He must find his path and in that process also find himself, while learning to cope with or confront whatever life throws up for him. So it is a story we can identify with, at the same time it is a story unique to Shrayan. I had a tough time staying the course, so it was challenging, and a learning experience. A writer realizes many things about herself as she explores the writing process.

What’s your idea of bliss?

To be “in the zone”, writing, with nothing disturbing me, the words pouring out like a blue and clear river stream gurgling its way to the end. I should be left alone to just write, with no other responsibility rearing its head.

What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?

The diktats of society on women, and our willing acceptance of them, as though women were born to just listen and serve. It is actually a total assault on the minds of women, for women believe this too. So being a girl trying to hold her own in society means there are two battles to be fought by her; one to achieve, and the other to overcome the forces that will stop her every step of the way.

What book/s would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?

Any number of notebooks, pens and pencils. To write, doodle and dream.

Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?

My laptop. It houses my muse.

Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.

Just do it, go make your music!

Author Bio:

Abha Iyengar is an internationally published author, poet and British Council certified Creative Writing Facilitator. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, magazines and literary journals, both in print and online. She is a Kota Press Poetry Anthology contest winner. Her story, ‘The High Stool’ was nominated for the Story South Million Writers Award. She has won several literary contests. She is a member of The Poetry Society of India and Writing in India. She has contributed to popular anthologies like ‘The Simple Touch of Fate’, ‘Knit Lit Too’, ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ and The Indo-Austalian Anthology of Short Fiction. Her work has appeared in literary journals like Gowanus Books, Tattoo Highway,Tryst3, Bewildering Stories, Enlightened Practice, The Asian Writer, Door Knobs and Body Paint, Citizen 32, Arabesques Review among others.