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.

by Chandra Ganguly

51Q9KM+iF3L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_I read Elena Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment during my first visit to New York, which coincided with the massacre of twenty people in a café in Bangladesh. In the big city, I found myself adrift between the busyness of the city, the meaningless and brutality of the lives lost in Bangladesh and the surreal state of abandonment of Olga in this book. Nothing meant anything, I told myself, and I struggled to make sense in the three realms I crossed and inhabited — reading the book on the subway, catching snippets of news on the papers and television, and navigating the busy roads and people of this city. For me, Mario, the protagonist’s husband, began to represent the fallacies and illusions we hold about love and life that for Olga become nothing but figments of her imagination and her longings for meaning and safety. In this city, like her, I too grappled with the underlying sense of the danger in everything, “…there began to grow inside me a permanent sense of danger.” (p.27)

In the book, Mario abandons his wife and family for a younger woman. His wife in turn loses her hold on reality and on the meaning of herself and her life. But then is it not true for all of us, no matter where we are in our lives, that our lives are suffused by the meanings we give to it, to our relationships and our experiences and choices? Ferrante pushed me in this book — or perhaps was it only the timing of my reading — into questioning what I was seeing and thinking in New York, “Everything was so random. As a girl, I had fallen in love with Mario, but I could have fallen in love with anyone: a body to which we end up attributing who knows what meanings.” (p.74) Random — that is the word I kept thinking about when I read about the victims of the Bangladesh attacks. Friends who went out for dinner, business partners, a birthday party, a place to have a drink, a pregnant woman’s farewell — is life as random as the decisions we make and are our ends just as randomly decided and finalized for us? Again and again, in Ferrante’s descriptions of Mario and Olga’s relationship with him and her life after he leaves her, I saw my search for a meaning to the human state. “Nothing was solid, everything was slipping away . . . I didn’t know how to find answers to the question marks, every possible answer seemed absurd, I was lost in the where am I, in the what am I doing. I was mute beside the why.” (p.107)