By Aminah Sheikh

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

As is the case with most of us, constant inner exploration with strings and strings of questions ushers me towards the world of fiction, I suppose. And that subsequently widens my imagination more and more.

Fiction always fascinates me, both to read and to write. For me, it is like living one life in reality but tens of thousands in the fictional space.

I write for the creative experience itself more than the politics in, out of and behind the issues although I do appreciate and enjoy them all while reading others’ works. I’ve found myself narrating mostly with an anthropological approach but the characterization and dialogues in my fiction certainly don’t shy away from the political side of the issue. I let them be as political as required. So, naturally I’ve never believed in creating an ideal world through fiction nor have I ever tried to give any solutions to the issue. The characters take my stories forward. This could be one of the reasons for readers and critics’ ‘author is absent in the narration’ experience and comments.

Like I always say it is the creative experience that I always long for that has been helping me evolve spiritually, the person that I am and will be. It’s one of the important byproducts of my reading and writing fiction for twenty two years.

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

With only two or three stories left to be written, ‘Dangling Gandhi and other short stories’ in English, is forming decently well. Although few of them talk of the contemporary issues in Singapore, some of the important stories transcend beyond eras and geographies. Thus the weaves, I hope, would subtly raise many intricate questions on several social issues of not just the modern multicultural societies and human migrations in this shrunken world, but also of the colonial India, Malaya and Singapore.

Zafar Anjum, the publisher cum writer with such a beautiful theme of ‘empowering and connecting Asian readers and writers, everywhere’, has been gracious to have launched ‘Horizon Afar and other Tamil short stories’ of mine, the second of its kind, at SILF16 at Kishanganj. How well he knows about the role of translation in filling the gaps and also in cultural sharing. I owe it very much also to the earnest and enthusiastic translator and writer P.Muralidharan of Chennai, and the editor of the book for her help in improving the text.

It may sound too ambitious or a little pre mature to say I wish to write a novel based on my transit experience at Delhi amidst the first week of demonetization woes, the SILF16 (Seemanchal International Literary Festival 2016), the town of Kishanganj, Bagdogra, Darjeeling but I hope some creative magic really happens.

There are some rough patches in Meena Kandasamy’s novel The Gypsy Goddess (Atlantic Books, 2014, pp 283) but the author’s spontaneity, coupled with a radiant wit makes this a memorable novel. Beyond the hard-hitting storyline, the variety of experiments with form would keep one engaged, marking out this book as an important debut of the year, says Rajat Chaudhuri.  

Gypsy GoddessThe Wikipedia entry on the Kilvenmani massacre is a mere 800 words long while the Economic and Political Weekly article that pops up in a JSTOR search, at two and half pages, offers a slightly better word count. A couple of documentaries on YouTube, a few stray newspaper reports from the past, is about all that Google manages to throw up about this barbaric killing of poor unarmed Dalit villagers of Kilvenmani in Tamil Nadu, southern India that happened on Christmas day, 1968. Now that someone has written a fictionalised account in English about this half forgotten incident, buried deep in the annals of peoples’ struggles, was reason enough to get hold of a copy of The Gypsy Goddess. Hardbound, with a brilliant crimson cover with gold lettering and wrapped up in a beautifully designed dust jacket, it appeared in my mailbox exuding vintage chic.

The story is about the cold-blooded massacre of forty two people of Kilvenmani village by caste Hindu landlords and their goons just as Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 was about the mindless bombing of Dresden by the allied forces. And obviously it is an immensely difficult story to tell because wanton killing doesn’t lend itself well to traditional forms of storytelling.

Spare, incandescently passionate, straining conventions, Meena Kandasamy reignites the Kilvenmany massacre: Urvashi Butalia in The Outlook

Gypsy GoddessThe Gypsy Goddess is clever, serious, witty, devastating, unusual and breathtakingly varied. In the first 30 or 40 pages, you read your way through the author’s anxieties about how to tell her chosen story. As this somewhat exten­ded, witty reflection on the writer’s relationship to the story, her choices of the standpoints from where to construct the narrative closes, you find you are already acquainted with the characters you will now meet, and indeed how the story will unfold.

Neutrality is the most vulgar political position, especially when the most bigoted partisans are calling the shots and you want to play along, and even host them, writes S Anand in this open letter to Prakriti Foundation, Chennai

“Since I have known you personally, and since you have supported Navayana’s work earlier, I thought I should keep an open mind and talk to you. Did you really see merit in this book? And that’s why I called you. I just wanted to ask you why you were doing this.  I am sure you had thought this through, but I still wanted to hear you out. Your defence shocked me more. You said, this was just a “marketing tactic” and you said you were doing this so that more people come to your Amdavadi Snack House in Chennai, and eat your dhoklas and theplas. “If Modi’s poetry will bring them in, so be it.” I could not believe this. I felt angry and even betrayed.

A viscerally powerful first novel from one of the most outspoken poets in contemporary India: Sumana Mukherjee in Live Mint

Gypsy Goddess“Fuck these postmodern writers.”
With this sentence, Meena Kandasamy ends possibly the most frustrating opening chapters you’ll read this year, replete with false starts, long digressions on everything from Ptolemy to Twitter and enough background information to rival a doctoral thesis. Precociously self-aware, preternaturally intelligent, and frequently convoluted, they also pre-empt every single argument that the reader or the reviewer could advance against these 50-odd pages and don’t spare the writer-narrator either.