By Aminah Sheikh
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
I was always fond of reading. When I was young, I read constantly, often finishing a novel in a day. But I never aspired to becoming a writer. In school I was fascinated by chemical equations and lab experiments, but was never encouraged to go into Chemistry. I studied English Literature in college and graduate school and worked as a professor for some years. I write because that is the only thing I know how to do.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
Tourist Season (published by Speaking Tiger), a collection of two novellas is my most recent book. Having written a novel, Silk Fish Opium, and a book of short stories, Train to Bombay, I was eager to take on the challenge of the novella. It is a difficult and eccentric form, but offers immense possibilities. I was also attempting to focus on environmental issues, and this theme is embedded in both the novellas.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
I try to write everyday, from about 8:00am until 2:00pm. I use a laptop computer for the manuscript, but outline scenes and take notes longhand on chits of paper. Whenever I get stuck while writing, I pace the floor. I end up pacing a great deal.
Who are your favorite authors?
That’s a difficult question. There are so many authors I admire for different reasons. But to name a few, I’d say John Banville, Ian McEwan, William Trevor, ItaloCalvino, Haruki Murakami, Gustave Flaubert, Magda Szabó, Ruth Ozeiki, Laleh Khadivi, Hillary Mantel, Michael Ondaatje, and J. M. Coetzee.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
Every piece of writing I attempt is a challenge. On a good day, I can write a page. But good days are rare.
What’s your idea of bliss?
Those rare good days when a prolific muse takes up a perch at my shoulder and quietly dictates the story and all I’m doing is writing it down.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
People who say: “If I had the time, I’d write a book.”
What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, books of poetry by Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī and Matsuo Basho.
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
I don’t know.
But I’ll tell you this: When Jean Cocteau was asked, “If your house was on fire, and you could save only one thing, what would you save?” he answered, “I would save the fire!”
I love his answer.
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
My philosophy of life is to wake up in the morning, go to bed at night, and in between try to do something worthwhile.
Jaina Sanga was born and grew up in Mumbai. She is the author of a novel, Silk Fish Opium, and a collection of stories, Train to Bombay. Her stories and essays have appeared in Asia Literary Review, Epiphany and Southwest Review, among other publications. She lives in Addison, Texas.