Ananda

By Aminah Sheikh

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

This is the kind of question, like “what do you write about”, that plunges me into a regular quandary because it’s as if I were being asked to summarize my life in one paragraph. I actually don’t know how I came to writing because I started as a child, almost as soon as I began to read and write, and it grew up with me. But I realized its importance when I was around 12 years old and started writing my first “novels”. I obtained my first literary prize at 15, published my first collection of short stories when I was 19 and never really looked back. I would say that I began to write because it was a way to break the silence – both mine and that of Mauritian society around me, which is one where things are left unsaid, where there is a kind of culture of stifling real feelings, and where, as in many other parts of the world, a large number of people are condemned to be unheard and at times invisible. My first novel, after my collections of short stories, was a first person narrative about a prostitute of Port-Louis, the capital of Mauritius. Written in the eighties, it broke a taboo in many ways, including the sexual violence being described and the sensuality of the writing. I’ve sometimes been described as a writer who writes for the voiceless. But this is a little too grand and emphatic for me. We are all voiceless in certain ways, and writing delves deep into our psyches, into fears and obsessions that fear to reveal themselves because they make us vulnerable.

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

The novel I have just completed and that will be published early next year was probably one I found most difficult to write because it broke away from my usual literary haunts. For instance, in all my novels, the place where the story is set is extremely important and plays a major part in the narrative. Whether it is Port-Louis, or Terre Rouge, in Mauritius, New Delhi or London, my characters tend to take on part of their meaning from their surroundings, which closely reflect their states of mind. This roots them in history – their own and the larger history of the place – in their being, in their becoming. In this last novel, however, I do not name the place; it could be any modern city, and there is hardly any description of the outer environment of the main character. This is because the story is told by a morbidly obese 16-year-old for whom, in a way, the “place” is her body. It is her prison and her shrine. She is captured by this inflationary process, trying to come to terms with it, with the fact that her mother left her with her father when she was still a baby, and her father, who adores her, also destroys her by constantly feeding her the most delicious food. He has also created the myth that the protagonist is obese because originally her mother was expecting twins, and that somehow, one was absorbed by the other. So the girl is both constantly shadowed by this invisible sister, and believes she has in a way devoured her inside the uterus. At the same time, it is a very contemporary novel because it talks about the constant “eye” of social media and the virtual world on all of us and on her especially, which turns her into a monster that is constantly being watched. The virtual world is the fourth dimension in which we now live, whether we like or not, and that has unleashed the most negative traits in people, mockery, aggression, hate, racism, behind the walls of anonymity. It all ends in an orgy of self-inflicted violence, the nihilism that is reflected in the many different sorts of violence surrounding us.

 

keki

By Aminah Sheikh

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

I write to express myself, and there is a hell of a lot in me to express.

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

Am trying to say many things in my book. Firstly what a short story can do and achieve. The title story “Daniell comes to Judgement” is about how fate conspires to deal with a corporate honcho who is trying to exploit a brave girl. The second story about Garima is about a divorce, the wife returning to her mother’s house and after all the dejection, the garden getting watered and suddenly the fragrance from the buried bulbs revives her. And the passages at the end of the story simply have to turn lyrical — language always has to keep pace with the twists and turns of a story. And don’t forget the story “Bars”, based on my experience in the National Commission for Minorities – pastors being arrested for converting a corpse! Hey Prabhu, the Hindutva police under a Hindutva regime in MP can do anything.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Writing aesthetic. Koi aesthetic vesthetic nahin Madam. Jo dil mein aya likh diya.

By Anurima Chanda 

shelly-poem-bk

We see the various stages of birth – the birth of a piece of writing, in Shelly Bhoil’s maiden collection of poems An Ember from Her Pyre. She begins at the beginning, when there exists only the turbulent blank that comes before the beginning. The germs of assorted ideas squirming in the brain, while the mind is still trying to process which one of it needs to be carried for a full term and finally given birth to. This is what the poems in the first section of her book – “The Recalling” give you a sense of. Bhoil seems unafraid to let the reader penetrate deep within the poet’s mind space, where everything is still raw, half-processed and unbaked. It is like the dustbin full of scratched out first lines written down on papers that have now been reduced into crushed little wrinkly balls. Here the poet is not yet a mother, but still the one whose egg has not met its fertilising agent. The “dream” of a poem, the imprint of another poem or poet on your poem, the struggle with words, with meanings, with grammar, the play with form, with diction and with dialects, and the lure of stories heard and memories made – millions of these seeds of ideas ejaculated into the poet’s mind womb is put out on open display as they swim towards the egg trying to reach it before the others.

As we reach the second section of her book – “An Ember from Her Pyre,” the union of the two has occurred. As Bhoil herself writes in “Unstitch”, one of her poems, “the word is pregnant”. The poems in this section are more sure of their existence. They are no longer fragmentary. They have now become full grown foetuses, which the poet has carefully nurtured in “the womb of [the] waters” of the mind. The isolated words that had been floating in the poet’s mind, have now been assimilated through “self-consummation” to narrate stories of their own. These tales have reignited the memories of many a “forgotten story”, given words to many a story that have been guarding painful “secrets”, and encouraged the mute “mannequins” to shake off the weight of “scripted roles” and be born anew as “a bud”. Bhoil has carefully shaken out the ghosts of the yesteryears from her “urn of life” and let them form roots of their own, in order to branch “deeper into the earth” and unearth “saplings” of tales bearing the weight of those experiences that have so long existed only between the lines.