Book Review by Neera Kashyap

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Title: The Map of Bihar and Other Stories

Author: Janet H Swinney

Publisher: Circaidy Gregory Press, UK, June 2019

The Map of Bihar and Other Stories is Janet Swinney’s first collection of short stories. Her stories have been acknowledged in a number of competitions, including as runner-up in the London Short Story competition, 2014. She has been published in major journals and anthologies across Britain, America and India.

In this collection, Swinney provides a broad view of two cultures — British and Indian — apart from glimpses of others. These stories with their heterogeneity of social and cultural traditions range from those of the poor and the working classes to that of the monied, each with its distinctive speech and outlook, enriching the oeuvre with depth and authenticity. Swinney herself comes from a family of coal miners. She lived among coal mining families in a council housing state in the north east of England, though her father — an unschooled poet who died at the age of 52 — worked as a clerk with the local bus company.

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By Shikhandin

Indira Chandrashekhar

Indira Chandrasekhar is a scientist, a fiction writer and the founder and principal editor of the short fiction magazine Out of Print. She also curates an annual short story contest along with DNA, called the DNA-OoP Short Story Prize. Indira has a Ph.D in Biophysics. She worked in scientific institutions in India, the US and Switzerland, before turning into a full time writer and editor. She co-edited the short story anthology, Pangea in 2012, Thames River Press, along with British author and Editor Rebecca Lloyd. Indira’s stories have appeared in Eclectica, Nether, Cosmonauts Avenue, Far Enough East, The Little Magazine, Guftugu and others.

Polymorphism, her first story collection, presents nineteen tightly wrapped and elegantly told stories in genres ranging from science fiction to slip stream to literary, often blurring the boundaries. The visual cues and the lingering effect created by her stories are at times disconcerting, even disturbing, and always memorable. As the blurb on the back cover says, ‘…Textured by the author’s scientific research on biological molecules and deeply informed by family stories, the collection explores humanity’s driving obsessions of life, fertility and relationships with tender, surreal expression.’

In an email interview Indira Chandrasekhar shares her writing journey and her views on the short story form with Shikhandin for Kitaab.

Shikhandin: First the obvious question, when did it all start, the writing, i.e.?

Indira: Writing fiction – as an adult – is significantly linked to place, to relocation and to realignment. I was working as a scientist at the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich when I returned to India to live in Mumbai, a city I did not really know. It was as if settling into, rediscovering, restoring my identity in the context of the place that was home, and yet wasn’t, unleashed a need to find creative expression outside the more fundamental cultural framework of science. I started drawing again, and writing. The writing took precedence – as if the story asserted itself and wanted to find an outlet.

Shikhandin: You have a Ph.D in Biophysics, and you write stories. Is it like straddling two boats? Share your unique experience with us.

Indira: Thank you for that question. In some ways, yes, it could be seen as if I straddle two ways of interpreting the world. The one, structured, logical and fact-based. The other surreal, fantastical and fictional. And yet, ultimately, I see both ways as related to making sense of existence, be it through the interactions of minute molecular entities that influence how the biological, the mamallian, the human system functions, or through the complex relationships between individuals that impact the way we think about ourselves, live our lives and construct our societies.

Shikhandin: Tell us about your magazine Out of Print. Why this name in particular? How did this journey begin?

Indira: Out of Print emerged as a consequence of trying to place my own writing in literary magazines and journals. At the time, this is around 2010, there were few literary journals in India and South Asia available to writers of short fiction. Some wonderful people supported the idea and we managed to get started. We decided to create an online journal and yet truly pay tribute to the – I am struggling for the phrase: classical, traditional, standard, 20th Century – perhaps a better way of putting it is, the ever-evolving literary traditions we have used to understand and constantly tell stories. In other words, because we were emerging from the familiar print form, I called the magazine Out of Print.

Indira Chandrasekhar is the Founding Editor of Out of Print magazine that focuses on short fiction. She shares with Kitaab her thoughts on the DNA Out of Print short fiction contest, how it came about and how it works.

IndiraTell us something about your magazine?

 Out of Print is a magazine that focuses on short fiction. We are a quarterly, offering a stringent selection of carefully edited short stories every three months. The stories all bear some connection to the Indian subcontinent.

Tell us about the DNA Out of Print short fiction contest. How did it start?

The contest, like many interesting confluences, came about in a wonderfully serendipitous way. A common interest in literature led to a conversation in writer Sanjay Bahadur’s drawing room between poet and novelist C P Surendran who is Editor-in-Chief of DNA and Indira Chandrasekhar, Founding Editor of Out of Print, which very quickly veered to the seed of what is now the DNA-Out of Print Short Fiction Contest.

Of course, the idea was then developed and detailed, but even the theme and format were fixed in the surge of that initial moment.