By Aminah Sheikh

kankana-basu

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

Growing up in a big family of book-lovers and where the head of the family was a distinguished author, it was inevitable that one got books as birthday gifts. Added to that was the daunting task of delivering an oral essay of every book read to a stern panel of adults! The love for words, consequently, was destined to bite very early. Although I trained for commercial art and worked as an illustrator-visualizer in my early years and aspired to paint in oils someday, the weight and thrust of words and story ideas was too great at one point and they threatened to erupt and take precedence over everything else, including my domestic life. I had no option but to sit down and put pen to paper. All of life’s experiences appeared to be translating into words somehow, and the need for self-expression took the form of writing (both fiction and non-fiction). Painterly aspirations went flying out of the window.

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

My most recently published book is a collection of short stories, Lamplight: Paranormal Stories from the Hinterlands. Some of the stories in this collection are loosely based on the ghost stories handed down from generation to generation in my father’s family. My grandparents lived in an old rambling house in Munger, Bihar, where all kinds of creepy things are supposed to have happened and I’ve taken inspiration from these.

I’m a huge admirer of the subtle form of story-telling, especially when it comes to the paranormal. Authors like Henry James, Stephen King and Ruskin Bond who create menacing atmospherics with the crafty use of language, where the reader’s mind can come unhinged with terror and imagination run rampant by the mere use of subtle suggestions, is the kind of craft I aspire to. Not for me the over-the-top spooking with blood, bones, screams and a whole lot of pyrotechnics. In Lamplight, I’ve taken an empathetic stance towards ghosts. Along with being chilling entities, I’ve tried to portray ghosts as piquant, funny, amorous, lovable and even gluttonous! I’ve allowed my ghosts to have the blast of their lives (or death, as the case may be!) in the stories.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I was barely nine when I read this magical novella called The Grass Harp by Truman Capote. The plot remains fuzzy in mind, it had something to do with an orphaned boy and two elderly ladies sitting on a branch of a tree and observing life. But till date I remember the vivid scene created by the author’s prose, that of a sea of emerald green grass waving in the breeze, bright golden sunshine, an idyllic summer’s day and a child with a head full of impossible longings. I love the auditory and visual qualities that certain writers conjure up by the magic of their prose. Some books titles are forgotten, one may even confuse plots but certain passages remain in the mind with their wonderful imagery. A rainy city at dusk, the lapping of waves against a boat on a starlit night and the silent aftermath of a riot-torn area are just some of the assorted bits that have stayed in memory after reading a couple of recent books. A book’s plot is of prime importance, for sure, but the rhythm of words, vibrant imagery and the ability to create a frequency that connects instantaneously with the reader is what I hope to achieve with every work of fiction I write. It is also immensely interesting to explore the secret worlds that people inhabit. There is a gray zone between what most people appear to be and what they truly are and it is an author’s privilege to explore this no-man’s land. Fictitious characters are almost always based on real life models, the twists and loops in their personalities, the angled perceptions of reality by different characters (reality, as it is, is a very subjective affair), mirages of the mind and the point where the real often blends into the surreal….. I try to explore these aspects in my writing.

Five plots, a few bad characters and a twist in the tale: Daily O

William DalrympleLast week, columnist Malavika Sangghvi wrote about a leaked email exchange (from a couple of months ago) between Aatish Taseer and William Dalrymple, two writers who have a little bit of history. Dalrymple, apparently, sought to end the needle by offering an olive branch: he invited Taseer to speak at the 2016 Jaipur Literature Festival, on a panel discussion about Manto and the Partition (Taseer has, in the past, translated Manto’s stories into English).

Manto
Manto

At the recently concluded literary festival at Aligarh Muslim University, authors dwelt on the changing representation of communal violence in literature – many noticed the stark changes in the depiction of such violence, from the time of Partition to more recent instances. The raw power of Manto, for instance, has been replaced by writing for readers less shocked – communal violence has become almost part of the nation’s “common sense”. Fiction too now reaches out for answers and solutions.

While at the time of Partition, the Muslim was almost solely the communal “Other”, groups like the Pandits of Kashmir and tales from insurgency in Punjab have expanded the number of communities that have experienced such violence.

An argument with Jnanpith winner Bhalchandra Nemade on the limitations and inevitable failure of Indian writing in English: Scroll.in

Literature is political in nature…literature needs a folklore, a shared history to exist

Manto
Manto

“There are questions of roots, literary cultures. Languages work within a number of contingent factors, including folklore, say, literary history, shared history and geography, flora, fauna, everything. Unfortunately, the kind of medium you have chosen – whatever your compulsions – you may land yourself into a no-man’s land gradually. Because you are using a form which has no folklore, no shared history.

Manto
Manto

Saadat Hasan Manto has a good claim to be considered the greatest South Asian writer of the 20th century. In his work, written in Urdu, he incarnated the exuberance, the madness, the alcoholic delirium of his time, when the country he loved cleaved into two and set upon each other, brothers of all religions murdering their infant nephews and raping their sisters-in-law.