The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Jerry Pinto

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Because I cannot dance like Nureyev, paint like Mehlli Gobhai, sing like T M Krishna but I can sometimes write from somewhere inside me that is me.

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

I have just this minute finished translating Jevha Mi Jaat Chorli by Baburao Bagul, from the Marathi. I hope to build another small linguistic bridge with my translation which is called When I Concealed My Caste and Other Stories.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I just wish there were something aesthetic about it.

Who are your favorite authors?

I am a different person at different times and each of these persons has a different favourite author. There is a Jerry who loves Agatha Christie and there is a Jerry who loves Vladimir Nabokov; there is a Jerry who needs a fix of Adil Jussawalla’s poetry and there is a Jerry who can mainline Moby Dick. There is the Jerry who would have loved to meet Charles Schulz and the Pinto who thinks Art Spiegelman is the mouse’s whiskers because the cats were Nazis. This is not a question that this Jerry, the one writing to you now, feels he ought to answer for there will be so many others shouting him down minutes later. (They’ve begun. Yes, P G Wodehouse. Yes, Coetze. Yes, Lessing. Yes, Pamuk. Yes, Rushdie. Yes, Ghosh. Of course, Kolatkar and Ezekiel. And Ranjit Hoskote and Arundhathi Subramaniam. Then there’s Sei Shonagon and Basho. Not to forget Wyslava Szymborska and Hergé. And the guy who wrote the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer? How’s that for concision?

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

Each time I approach the wall of white, the empty sheet, the clean adamantine surface of the computer I am thrown back on my own resources and I must once again see what I can find. But in some ways I suppose my first novel Em and the Big Hoom was one of the most difficult things I ever did.

What’s your idea of bliss?

To live in that Utopia where one knows how to write brilliant perfect wordefacts.

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

To see opportunities squandered. To see a nation disfigured. To see people deformed by hatred.

What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?

I read a book a day, or every two days. Or with longer books, maybe a week. But let’s suppose I had to do this. I would take War and Peace by Tolstoy, the Complete Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe, the collected poetry of Maya Angelou, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus which would take a month at least, Pratinidhi Kavitaayein by Kedarnath Singh and Vinod Kumar Shukla, Mirza Ghalib’s poems, and the Voynich Manuscript (just in case the solution jumps out at me).

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

If the people in it are safe, I would not look back at anything in the house. But if I had to choose one thing: my hard drive.

Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.  

Unhappy the man whose philosophy of life is not written in flame on flowing water.


Jerry Pinto is the author of the novels Murder in Mahim (2017) and Em and the Big Hoom (2012; winner of the Hindu Prize and the Crossword Book Award), and the non-fiction book Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb (2006; winner of the National Award for the Best Book on Cinema). His other books includeAsylum and Other PoemsSurviving WomenA Bear for FeliciaMonster GardenWhen Crows Are White and, as editor, A Book of Light: When a Loved One Has a Different MindReflected in Water: Writings on GoaThe Greatest Show on Earth: Writings on BollywoodBombay, Meri Jaan: Writings on Mumbai (with Naresh Fernandes) and Confronting Love: Poems (with Arundhathi Subramaniam). He has also translated (from Marathi) Daya Pawar’s classic autobiography Baluta, and the memoirs I Want to Destroy Myself (Mala Udhvasta Vhachay) by Malika Amar Shaikh and I, the Salt Doll (Mee Mithaachi Baahuli) by Vandana Mishra.

Jerry Pinto also teaches journalism at the Sophia Institute of Social Communications Media in Mumbai and is on the board of directors of Meljol, which works in the sphere of child rights. In 2016, Jerry Pinto was awarded the Windham-Campbell Prize and the Sahitya Akademi Award.

(by Aminah Sheikh)