The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Shahnaz Bashir
By Aminah Sheikh
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
My basic instinct is to write. Of course, a cause, money, adulation and fame are what writers write for but they can’t happen without the instinct. The vent that I need to articulate the deepest levels of my consciousness drives me to write. When not writing, I sing; I sing well.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
My most recent book is Scattered Souls. It is a collection of 13 interlinked stories which makes it a novel as well. The connections between the stories have been determined by the interdependent diversity in suffering that run through disparate, scattered individuals as a thread, enabling each character a full role in relation to the other. But that is not how it was planned. It emerged while writing them.
The conflict situation in Kashmir is extraordinary. The stories try to evince what ordinary means to a people living (read suffering) in an extraordinary situation.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
Primarily, I’m fond of experimenting with diverse formats. I also like to punctuate the narration with real elements like a letter, an ad, a song, a poem, a list, a symbol and so on. I don’t like tight climax-plots but loose-ended plots to my stories with a multi-plot embedded throughout. I like a matter-of-fact, poetic, stream-of-consciousness, compact narration generally and above all. My stories would stand alone as well as converge, with certain elements, into each other. I am fond of nouns and verbs mostly, in verbing of nouns and adjectives as tiny metaphors. I don’t approve of fiction which is written only to explore the possibilities of language not ideas. I don’t like too much of aesthetic that fails to torture the language and holds it back from telling the latent truth.
Who are your favorite authors?
My most favourite authors hitherto are: Tolstoy for the spirituality, plotting, characterial diversity and universality; Dostoevsky, for plotting, darkness of the human psyche and existential philosophy, nihilism and questions of the moral, social Marxism and so on; Chekhov for slicing lives and getting the pieces to stand alone as brilliant metaphors to the everyday issues, tragedies, paradoxes, ironies and so on; Kafka for his impossible characters manifesting serious questions of existence; J M Coetzee for his lucid tales universalizing the raw African experience, the conflict and the problem of racism; Elena Ferrante for the depth of her consciousness of the simple day to day life; Knausgaard for creating diverse meaning of a singular reality and interpreting it in various contexts of human experience; Premchand for his being grounded in the experience of the destitute existentialism; Daniyal Mueenuddin for the ease with which he portrays the feudal country life in Pakistan and its relations to the world at large; and John Banville for his style of narration, his compact prose.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
The challenging piece of my writing is my next novel. It’s a very personal and deep novel.
What’s your idea of bliss?
Oblivion. Even the oblivion against pleasure.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
I don’t write daily like most writers do. I write occasionally but once I get into it, I work with a seriousness and nervousness of a murderer. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I’m disturbed.
What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
No books. I’d rather explore and enjoy the desertedness of the boondocks.
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
Life is a consciousness seeking bliss, consciousness itself is a great sickness and this great sickness has its own bliss; that bliss is life.
Shahnaz Bashir was born and brought up in Kashmir. His widely reviewed and critically lauded debut novel The Half Mother won the Muse India Young Writer Award 2015. His short fiction, memoir essays, poetry and reportage have been widely published and anthologised.
In its issue of Jan 2016, Kashmir Life, a popular weekly tabloid, profiled Shahnaz as “one of the nine difference-makers to stand out in the state population of 12.5 million”.
Shahnaz teaches narrative journalism and conflict reporting at the Central University of Kashmir, Srinagar. He is a university gold medalist in journalism and was also awarded the prestigious Shamim Ahmad Shamim Memorial Kashmir Times Award 2007. His second book Scattered Souls, a collection of interlinked stories, has just been published by Fourth Estate HarperCollins. He is currently working on his third book.
Aminah Sheikh is the Online Editor of Kitaab