By Aminah Sheikh
Each of the authors interviewed for Kitaab’s Lounge Chair have been unique, and this email interview with Irwin Allan Sealy was no different. Along with his responses he sent us a note which we’ve decided to retain as part of his interview. You’ll see why…
i sense a distinct persona here but a reluctance to lower the mask. i’m not sure you can use “let’s” and at the same time absent yourself but i’ll take your questions seriously; there’ll be some loss if you automatically adapt my answers to your house style. for example i prefer not to use the capital i for me, or for that matter capitals of any kind, but fight a losing battle with autocorrect. it’s your call!
(Editor’s note: We decided to publish the interview without editing the manuscript for capital letters).
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
i write to sort out impressions accumulated in my body and ideas formed in my head over a lifetime; the two camps are perpetually at war. i write to ward off that madness, but equally for the pleasure of making something out of nothing. i write for the delight certain patterns yield. i write to make sense of an apparently barbarous world. i write to explain the persistence of goodness. i write for a living. i write to escape my fate, to step out of myself. i write to rescue the past, to examine alternative worlds. i write to explore an assigned topic (like this), to assess my motives, to plan a course of action, to understand last night’s dream (there was a marsh), to scrutinize loose notions, to reach out to persons far away in space and time, and because i detest the telephone.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
zelaldinus is a cycle of poems that came out of several visits to fatehpur sikri. i think I’m over the obsession, but while it lasted it played me along, allowing other mistresses but refusing to let go. i was interested to inhabit a particular past, that decade (the 1570s) in the life of a dynasty when an empire was doing all things right, as well as a moment in geologic time on a particular hill. History, nature, architecture, hydraulics (they had an intricate system of raising water from wells at the foot of the hill up a series of lifts and channels to the palace), industry and craft, painting and music were performing a fine dance in my head; the problem was to choreograph it. the book is also a chat with a great king, jalaluddin (zelaldinus) akbar, and with my own father, neither of whom was an easy talker.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
to catch the indeterminacy of life without imposing a falsifying order
Who are your favorite authors?
cervantes, sterne, calvino, carson mccullers, penelope fitzgerald, you get the picture
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
the next book: it sits there taunting me out of its insufferable completeness
What’s your idea of bliss?
the hour between five and six on a may morning in this back yard (where it’s going to be 41 degrees later in the afternoon) when the pear tree and the golden bottle brush and the mulberry converse in a gentle breeze
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
to come home to my pagoda and find someone’d demolished it and built their version of paradise on my small piece of land, would
What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
i live in the boondocks, so on my retreat in delhi i’d take the kindle paperwhite ive been meaning and meaning to acquire, a bible (or at least the old testament, for stories that seem contain all of human experience), gilbert white’s natural history of selbourne, moby dick (to start again from the beginning), and my worst book (to get it right before the shame of it kills me).
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
this elderly laptop
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
to master the art of living while there’s time
Irwin Allan Sealy was born in Allahabad and educated in Lucknow and Delhi. He is the author of The Trotter-Nama, The Everest Hotel, The Brainfever Bird and other novels, and the travelogues From Yukon to Yucatan and The China Sketchbook. A memoir, The Small Wild Goose Pagoda, is set in Dehra Dun where he lives.