In Conversation with Aanchal Malhotra: Revisiting the past one object at a time.

Aanchal Malhotra talks about how the book came to be written, and the aspects involved with recording material memory.

I remember going up to my grandfather after I had finished reading Remnants of a Separation to inquire about his past, about what happened during Partition, and how after all was said and done, he along with his family, decided to live for the rest of their lives, carrying a huge loss in their hearts. And that’s what Aanchal’s book ” Remnants of a Separation” prompted me to do. It has in ways more than one opened room for discussion for not just me but many who’ve read the book but never realized they have family members who were witness to the partition. It has given all those who were thrown into the middle of one of the most important historical events a voice. We all know what happened through innumerable written, oral and visual sources. But the primary source has always been the people who experienced it firsthand. Through interviews, Aanchal has given us an insight into what happened, relying on material memory, and how objects play a powerful role.

It was a pleasure interviewing Aanchal, and listen to her narrate how it all began.

INTERVIEW:

  • You’re an artist and Oral historian, how did writing a book on material memory come into the picture?

What I put on my blog were just snippets of information, at least at the beginning. When I was doing these interviews people were telling me things that were never taught to us in schools and they weren’t great things like religious importance or anything. They were just things about Undivided India and I thought everyone should have access to that kind of information, of what life was like beforehand. The thing with putting things online is that it’s accessible and democratic.  I didn’t really expect such response from people and I didn’t know if people were interested still about the Partition. I started writing the blog on a whim because when you’re doing such interviews, you hear all this information and it gets heavy in your head. All these things about trauma and loss, and you think to yourself,’ I don’t want to hold all this information in my head’.  I mean, factually writing a book is also a catharsis of sorts. So it clearly came from the need of NEEDING to share because I needed other people to know that, ‘hey they’re not so different or hey things were really not so bad all the time’.

 

  • Remnants of a Separation, which was once your thesis project is now a book. How would you describe this journey?

It seemed like a natural progression. It started as a thesis and I am artist, so it was a visual thesis. You know when something takes over you, and you’re not leading it, it’s leading you. Suddenly people started writing to me from different places and I didn’t really expect it to become this big because you’re talking about things. Honestly, I didn’t think that things would make such a big difference because in the larger scheme of life when people are running and freeing for safety, is a THING really that important? But 70 years later, it remains the only way we have access to undivided India’s daily life.

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  • You’ve interviewed several people in your book, situated on both sides of the border. Do you see any difference in how they have coped post-partition? Or is pain and heartache individualistic?

On one level, a very rudimentary level, there is nostalgia on both sides, and there are emotions on both sides, but when you get up to a state or political level, then the narrative is different. And unfortunately, in Pakistan, the state of the narrative is married into the narrative of identity. So it is difficult to say anything that might hamper that narrative. We have to keep in mind that a Partition is an event of versions.  Everybody’s version adds up to what Partition is. It’s not just one kind of narrative; there are hundreds and thousands of different kinds of narratives that people went through for the same event. That’s what amazes me is that even if two people move from the same village and went to the same village, their versions of what happened will be totally different, depending on their experiences.

 

  • Your interviews are more like stories being narrated. What made you choose this form of storytelling?

I think it’s because I’m not trained as a writer. I really think it’s because I am an artist, and when you study art or go to art school or make something in a studio, your primary motive is to create something out of nothing. You’re making imagery; you’re trying to transport the person to a particular place through images. I think personally as a writer that should be your job as well.  I started writing based on the images people were creating for me or the imaginary landscape I was making, I think my writing is very visual, it’s sensorial.  I don’t know anything about writing, I write because of what I feel which is how I make stuff as well. Maybe it’s like an emotion-driven process but in the case of the book, it also had to be married into facts and academia. So I had to learn a lot of tools on the way; like I had to learn how to be a historian and I had to learn how to be an archaeologist of memory; how do you ask a question? You learn to be an interviewer; you learn to be a researcher. You learn that you can’t spend your day in the studio and you actually have to spend 12 hours in the library. The form of storytelling will always remain visual for me. For me, the texture of every story is very different. The color of every story is different, the landscape of every story is different; it moves. So it’s very important to make distinctness in people that each person stands for a different kind of narrative.

 

  • Most of the younger generation seem to be uninterested when it comes to Partition or they don’t know enough about it. Do you think material memory can be the catalyst in bringing together generations and opening a discussion?

I hope so. I see it happening even on my blog or Instagram. It can be a very simple thing like maybe I’ve posted a photo of a Kadhai or glass, and if a person from India and a person from Pakistan or a person from Bangladesh are all talking about the same thing in the comment section then something is happening. Maybe the object is a very frivolous thing to be talking about but maybe it can also be considered a democratic space for cross-border conversation. It’s just something you connect to.

 

  • You’ve spoken about how the topic of Partition is almost always dealt with hesitation by the very people who were a huge part of it. What do you think is the reason?

I think it depends on people’s perspective or what they went through or their experience. But there’s a certain amount of shame in being driven out of your house, in not being able to do anything, in seeing what people around you are doing. There is anger and I think that many people that lived through it did not have the time and space to comprehend what they had gone through. I always think about this: Imagine if after the partition there had been psychologists or counselors to talk to people, imagine how different an experience it would have been. But you went through this incredibly traumatic event, you were driven out of your house, you had nothing, you were reduced to penury, and then you just had to move on, and start life again in this new place. I can’t even imagine. Would I ever talk about it if I went through it and would I ever be able to unsee the things that people saw? You know what really shocks me, and I always ask this question to people: Do you think it’s weird that something we study as a historical component in textbooks is something that you have lived through?  These people are living histories. The other thing is that after Partition no one talked about it, it’s not like the Holocaust where people wrote about it extensively. And it’s also not like the Holocaust where there’s a clear demarcation of who is the victim and who is the perpetrator? There was nothing like this here; everyone was at fault at some point or the other. The boundaries became very blurred as to who did what and who was responsible for what and who started the killing and who started the bombings. It is difficult to say because we weren’t there and I think even the people who lived through it cannot say with certainty and certainly not with an unbiased perspective who started it.

 

  • On reading the book, one also realizes that Partition is as much about people’s kindness towards other communities as it is about hatred and violence. Don’t you think the stories about Partition merely just state facts when it’s much more than that? Why don’t we hear about such stories?

Because those stories don’t sell. Violence sells a lot. There are so many stories about goodness. People don’t talk about it. Virtually everyone person I’ve met in Pakistan has some family in India and growing up in India I didn’t even think about this. Now it’s like such a common thing for me to hear.

 

 

  • Is there any story that is close to your heart but didn’t make it to the book?

Yes. There’s a particular story I heard in Karachi, just last month. And I want to tell you because it’s a very important story for me, and it really shook me. It really moved me. There was a woman, who was traveling from Delhi to Lahore, and the train got attacked by rioters and so many people died on the train. Her husband was one of the people who was stabbed and was thrown off the train. She was alive but she jumped after him. The train had stopped and the rioters had fled. All the people who had died were just lying on the train. Her husband bled till death. She took off her dupatta and she soaked up all of his blood that she could. She made the train’s attendant promise that he would bury her husband as she couldn’t take the body by herself being pregnant at the time. She soaked up the blood, got on the train by herself and reached Lahore where she didn’t know anyone. She went to the graveyard and bought a plot and buried that blood-soaked dupatta. It was the only thing she had of her husband. And she gave birth to a son whom she would take to the graveyard every week to visit his father. Can you imagine a dupatta standing in for a person? It is just heartbreaking on so many levels.  The woman had no regret, no malice for people that had done that. She understood that it was circumstance. But the sheer act of picking up the part of somebody else, that’s also one form of an object I suppose.

 

  • What has been the most difficult part of writing Remnants of a Separation? Finding people to interview or waiting for them to unearth memories they’ve buried deep within?

Talking about it. It’s really hard. You know some people have this skill of being able to extract information in an unobtrusive way, and I’m one of those people. When you get to that conversation with a person, it comes quite naturally because you don’t start with Partition. You never start with Partition. You start with all the other things and eventually you get to Partition. I think for me right now the most challenging thing is constantly talking about it.  What happens when you keep talking about something that’s so magnanimous is that the more you talk about it, the more it seems to be reduced to data. It seems like a rehearsed activity that you’re doing all the time. Now the most challenging thing is talking about it again and again. These people are not just people, they are my family. Somebody has opened their life and told me something infinite, you have to respect that. Sometimes journalists have these habits of asking questions and it seems like data.

 

  • Are you working on any other project?

I am working on a novel about an Indian Soldier who fights in World War I in the                Western front. It won’t be out for another two years.

 

(This interview was first published in a monthly newsletter, OfTheNefeli)

 

About the Author:
Aanchal Malhotra is an artist and oral historian, working with memory and material culture. She was educated in Traditional Printmaking and Art History at OCAD (Ontario College of Art & Design), Toronto and Concordia University, Montréal. She is the author of ‘Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory’ (HarperCollins 2017) and can be found at The Hiatus Project, Instagram and her website.

In Conversation with Sanam Maher: Author of The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch

Sanam Maher gets candid about what prompted her to write, the difficulties she faced and what it’s like being a writer.

I read Sanam Maher’s debut novel, The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch, back in May, and devoured the book within 2 days. The author’s crisp, and intelligent writing coupled with unsettling yet relevant account of the murder of the social media star, Qandeel Baloch not only made a huge impact on me but it also prompted me to delve further into the writer’s psych and have a few questions that were lingering in my mind, answered. Sanam is one of the nicest person to talk to and if you’re not following her hilarious IG stories, what are you even doing with your time?

To know more about the book, click here: The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Meher: A fierce and bold account in non-fiction.
Interview:

  • Qandeel had already created ripples through her online media presence, and had always been on the radar. What did you think of her back then?

Before I started freelancing and then working on this book full time, I worked as in a newsroom at a daily paper in Karachi. The first time I heard about Qandeel was in that newsroom, when a couple of guys who worked at the desk with me were talking about her viral “How I’m looking?” video. I looked her up and the little that I did see led me to want to do a story – I thought the piece would look at how young women are using platforms like Facebook and Instagram to push the envelope on how they can dress, speak or present themselves in Pakistan. I’ve long maintained a fascination with what we as Pakistanis do on social media and I thought Qandeel would be a great person to focus on for a piece exploring this. I would see Qandeel’s videos or photos whenever someone I knew would share them on Facebook, and then when it became popular to imitate her in DubSmash videos, but my piece was never written, lost somewhere between deadlines and switching jobs. The idea stayed with me, and I told myself I’d have time to do it later, to meet Qandeel later and to find others like her.

  • How did writing a book on Qandeel come to you?

In July 2016, I remember staring at the television the day news of Qandeel’s murder broke, and feeling stunned. I didn’t want to let go of her story once again. The idea of this woman who had managed to fool all of us – her audience and the media – and who had created this persona that we had bought into wholesale took root. I admired her gumption and the courage it must have taken to create the persona that she did.

Then, in the hours and days after, it was terrible to see the reactions online from many Pakistanis who were very happy that she had been “punished” for behaving the way that she did. I saw acquaintances in my own social media feeds having arguments about whether what had happened was right or wrong, whether Qandeel “deserved” what had been done to her. “Offline”, many of the men and women I knew were condemning Qandeel’s death but then, in the next breath, following their statements with “… but if you think about it…”

It was a moment when I was seeing friends and family members draw a line and very firmly position themselves on either side, and I think the last time I’d seen something like that happen – a moment that calls for definition or clarity on the question of how we see ourselves as Pakistanis and what we hope for or believe we deserve – was when Salmaan Taseer was shot and killed in 2011. The reactions to Qandeel’s murder have revealed two very different answers to the question of what it means to be Pakistani, and more crucially, what it means to be a woman living in Pakistan today. I wanted to tell a story not just about Qandeel, but about that moment and that definition. I knew that this book wasn’t just about Qandeel, but about the kind of place that enabled her to become who she did, and the place that ultimately found that it could not tolerate her.

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  • What was the most difficult aspect of writing this book?

One of the very first hurdles I faced was that I felt handicapped by never having met Qandeel. It was the first time I’d had to report on someone I had never spoken with, with whom I could not verify a single detail of anything I was learning about them. Try and think of your own life – imagine a reporter trying to find out everything they can about you. Who do you trust to tell your story? We show different facets of our personality to different people, and Qandeel was a chameleon. I had this trove of photographs and videos and interviews of this person, but at the end of the day, every appearance, video, interview, tweet or Facebook post was her in character.

With every new piece of information I received about her, I would feel, “Yes, this is it, I understand her now”, only to learn something else and be utterly confounded again. Everything I was learning about Qandeel in the interviews I did was secondhand information, and then there was the added problem of this information having been repeated so many times – particularly when it came to the principal “characters” in her life, such as her manager Mec or her parents – as they had been interviewed so many times, and continued to be, for news stories or documentaries on Qandeel. Qandeel passed away in July, and I started meeting these people two months later. By then, they almost seemed to follow a script each time for what they wanted to say. Their information was now coloured by feelings of grief or guilt or wanting to come across a certain way in media coverage, or understanding that certain things they said would help them stay in the limelight and keep the media interested in the story.

With all the news reports, gossip, TV shows and documentaries, I think many of us feel we already know Qandeel’s story – it was difficult to figure out a way to tell a story that people feel they already know, but ultimately, I realised just how little I myself actually knew, even after poring over every piece of information I could find out about her before I travelled to Punjab and started my own research and interviews. What we know so far has been coloured by the media frenzy around Qandeel’s murder.

  • You mentioned being stuck after your first week in Multan as the information about Qandeel was more or less scripted. How did you filter facts from gossip and hearsay?

Before I went to Multan, I had read and seen anything that had been put out on Qandeel and her murder. I believed I knew what had happened and I went to Multan with a plan to report on what I thought was a neatly aligned story. I was so completely confounded because most of the stuff I was encountering or hearing wasn’t being covered in whatever I’d seen and read so far. And yet, everyone I met was convinced that they knew ‘the Qandeel story’. I don’t want to be a part of that, and ultimately, I decided that I would use all the inconsistencies and lingering questions, the gossip and hearsay, to force readers to question their understanding of Qandeel and whatever she did. Its very easy to judge her and feel like you have her pinned down, but what if all you know about her was challenged? Throughout the book, I’ve included the little fibs that Qandeel told about herself, stories that sources told me that I knew were filtered memories and probably largely untrue or designed to make themselves look a certain way. This was my attempt to make the readers feel doubtful, and just when the reader feels as if they have finally “gotten” Qandeel, I wanted them to receive new information that made it all feel questionable. That was certainly my experience of researching this story.

  • ‘Not everyone seeks fame. Sometimes fame–the kind some people spend their entire lives courting, finds you.’ Do you think Arshad Khan, to whom fame arrived on a silver platter albeit unwanted was largely exploited by it?

When looking at Qandeel’s fame as a viral star, I began to think about how my generation of Pakistanis has been connected to the world like never before – what are we doing in the public spaces we are finding online? What does it mean to go viral in Pakistan? How are we building communities online in order to speak in ways that we may not be able to “offline”? What happens when we behave in a way online that seems to break the rules of how we are supposed to behave, particularly as women, “in the real world”? Something important that Qandeel’s story shows us about the ways in which we engage with social media is the constant trickle of information from online spaces into the greater public sphere – conversations and movements online are discussed on talk shows and in the news and so even if you aren’t on social media, you’re probably still going to receive information being spread there. What effect does that have?

In exploring these ideas, I met with Arshad Khan aka the Chaiwallah, as well as the men and women who are trying to patrol our activities online and monitor and censor us, and others who are determined to keep us safer and more vocal online – particularly in the case of women and marginalized or minority communities. Qandeel’s social media activity also gave me a way to talk about how we might be connected to a global space of ideas and possibilities online, but we’re still very much grounded in the society and culture we live in here in Pakistan, and through her story and some of the other stories in the book, you see the terrible ramifications that a clash between the two can have. I think with someone like Arshad, or even with Qandeel, when you’re dealing with an audience that is difficult to keep entertained, an audience that has an attention deficit and has so many competing avenues of entertainment, you have to figure out ways to keep upping the ante and giving the audience the next new thing, the next scandal, the next piece of gossip. Once someone like Arshad is thrust into a completely new world and that world loses interest in him, what happens to him? He may no longer belong to his old life, and he may no longer be interesting to people from his new life once the novelty of “the Chaiwallah” wears off – so what happens to someone who is caught in the grey space in the middle? That’s what I was keen to look at with viral stars like Arshad.

  • During research, did you approach the book as a journalist or a writer?

I still find it hard to think of myself as “a writer” or “an author”! This was definitely a work of journalism, albeit much longer and more complex than any other story I’d worked on – I’d never worked on a crime story, never had to deal with so many stories and figure out a way to pull it all together so it was cohesive. I think I approached it more as a reader, constantly asking myself what I would want to read and know about with this story, what could it tell me or reveal to me. I’d read and re-read bits of writing over and over again out loud in order to hear if it was too dense, if it wasn’t fast paced enough. I needed something that any reader here would find easy to get into and wouldn’t want to put down and get back onto Instagram again.

  • Do you read reviews of your books? How do you deal with them?

This is my first book, and initially I told myself I wouldn’t read reviews because I was so nervous about what they would say. Obviously I didn’t stick to that rule. I’ve had such a great time getting mini-reviews and feedback from people who follow me on social media, especially Instagram, that that helped me feel a lot less nervous and able to hear any criticism or critical points that I might see elsewhere. So far though the reviews have been very good.

  • What has been one of your most rewarding experience as an author?

Hearing from people who are buying the book not just for themselves but for their mothers or friends or siblings. Getting messages from strangers about how they really loved it, they understood what I was trying to do and they raced through the book because they couldn’t put it down. There’s nothing more gratifying than to hear that a reader lost themselves in your work, especially because I know how easy it is to ditch a book in favor of going online or scrolling through your social media feed.

  • What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I get asked this question a lot, especially from aspiring writers and journalists on Instagram. For me the most crucial thing, and its so basic, is to read. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Definitely read one newspaper a day – its free if you go online, you don’t even have to pay for the physical thing – and read every section, including the pages you don’t care about (one of my favourite stories that I worked on came from a small news item in the sports pages). Don’t worry too much if you haven’t read “the canon” or “the greats”. There have been many times when I’ve said this to people who message me and I get replies about “but I get bored” or “but I don’t like reading the news” or “the news is boring” and most memorably one time, “This seems like a lot of work.” There really isn’t a shortcut unless you’re a literary genius. When you don’t feel like reading, watch things that are beautifully made, listen to a podcast or an audio book, but constantly train your brain to think a certain way, to hear well crafted sentences, to hear how conversations can be written. Its like a muscle that you have to just keep strengthening.

  • Lastly, if your novel was being made into a movie, whom would you pick to play the lead roles?

You might actually hear some news about this very soon from me! So I won’t spoil it or jinx it.

*Image Credit: Shehrezad Maher

In Conversation with Faiqa Mansab: Author of This House of Clay and Water

I recently had the opportunity to ask, Faiqa Mansab, one of my favourite authors a bunch of literary questions and her answers are everything a book lover would want to hear!

When I read This House of Clay and Water a few months back, I knew I had stumbled upon a story that would stay with me for a long time. I devoured the book within a day, and struggled to come up with a review that would do justice to the book. It was a book that made me realize why I love reading, and why the written words will never fail to leave me breathless. When you read a book that speaks strongly to you, you can’t help but get inside the head of the author who wrote it, and therefore, I had the honor of interviewing Faiqa Mansab, author of This House of Clay and Water. Absolutely honest, insightful and full of literary wisdom, the author tells us what it’s like to be a writer and much more!

 

INTERVIEW:

Thank you so much for taking out time to answer my questions and gracing my blog with your presence.

Thank you for having me. I really enjoy interacting with readers and bloggers like you make it possible.

  • I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot but did you always want to be a writer?

I enjoy answering it every time because each time I think about it, the memory becomes clearer, or perhaps my own attitude towards what it was that led me here, clarifies. See, there was a time when I felt I wanted to be a writer because I wanted to give readers the kind of joy and comfort I received from books, but there is also that feeling that perhaps a writer doesn’t decide but discovers that she is a storyteller, because when not writing, when not spinning stories, they’re not very happy people. Reading is my first love and writing is my second love and one without the other seems impossible to me.

  • What was your inspiration behind your latest novel, ‘This House of Clay and Water’?

It’s a story that had been brewing within my consciousness for the longest time, even before I went for my MFA in London, where I finished it. I think Lahore is always my inspiration. The character I’m writing about may be another. The very idea of writing, is a huge inspiration. It’s such a quiet process, lonely even, and yet it’s a powerful declaration. Language is an inspiration. Words are actions, I believe. I enjoy the process of wordsmithing and it inspires me daily.

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  • What was your favorite chapter or part to write?

I enjoyed writing all the characters very much. They’re all so different from each other. Their voices, circumstance, choices are so different and they managed to surprise me. However, that chapter about Zoya and Idrees was very painful and difficult to write for me.

  • What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

It was reading books. I could forget everything, all kind of hurts, loneliness, disappointments, when I was immersed in a book. I realized how important books were to me at an early age. I grew up on books more than anything else. Books were my compass and my North Star; my steadfast companions and my solace. The words written in books so long ago could comfort me and that was so liberating. I understood early that language is indeed power and a storyteller wields that power.

  • What does literary success look like to you?

Like it’s still a long way off. I want a lot from life.

  • How hard is it to establish and maintain a career in fiction writing?

Quite hard. You have to have total commitment, and be willing to work hard, have discipline and to throw away months and months’ worth of work for the sake of art. Your art should come first. Fiction is harder to write and sell than non-fiction. Fiction is truth told as if it isn’t. That’s a tough one to pull. Publishing isn’t such a walk in the park either. It’s a business and just because you’ve written a good story doesn’t mean it will sell. No one owes you anything. A writer shouldn’t feel that because they’ve been slaving away in the store-room writing for months, publishers will be lining up to sign them on. A good story doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it will be published. It’s a tough business.

  • Have you read anything that made you feel differently about fiction?

The kind of fiction I read only makes me want to be a better writer. The language in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient is just beautiful. Patricia McKillip writes magically, no pun intended. I love fiction, reading and writing it, and I read everything.

  • What’s your ideal writing space?

I’ll tell you something I’ve never told anyone. I was quite young when I read the story of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone from Egypt and how the hieroglyphs were a code that was needed to decipher everything that had been discovered before. Without the Rosetta Stone so much of the Egyptian civilization would have been lost to us. The story reminded me of all the books I’d ever read that had helped me discover a little bit more about me.

The very first time I went to the British Museum in 2001, I bought a little paper weight of a Rosetta Stone. It stays on my desk as a sort of reminder. I want to write books that are like the Rosetta Stone for someone somewhere. A code to some kind of discovery—of self, a bit of life, some element of humanity.

  • What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai. Not as many people know about it as should. It’s a wonderful, lever novel. I highly recommend it.

  • Tea or Coffee?

Coffee. Always.

  • If you could, what would you tell your younger self?

Have courage, you’re going to need it.

  • Lastly, are you currently writing any book? If yes, what’s the genre going to be?

I write fiction. I don’t think of the genre. I just write the stories I must because a certain character at a certain time compels me to write their story. I’m always writing something or the other. Sometimes I have to abandon a story after 50k, like my current WIP because I lose interest in that particular story, usually because I’ve taken too long to capture the first draft. When you’ve written a first draft then you can tinker with the story as you like, but if the first draft is incomplete, I feel one often outgrows the characters.

 

 


About the author:

Faiqa  Mansab earned an MFA in Creative Writing with Distinction from Kingston University in London in 2014. She has been published in various academic journals and newspapers including an excerpt of her new novel in The Missing Slate. She has been a teacher and school administrator for ten years and conducts creative writing workshops at universities. This House of Clay and Water is her debut novel published by Penguin India. 

 

You can read my review of This House of Clay and Water here: This House Of Clay And Water by Faiqa Mansab: A tale of forbidden love, freedom and the need to belong.

 

 

Author Interview: Kavita Kane

Meet the queen of Indian Mythology.

No other way to celebrate my 5Oth post on WordPress than to have the versatile author and senior Journalist, Kavita Kane talk to us about her love for mythology, what inspires her and a little something about her no one knows!

You can read the review of her latest book Lanka’s Princess here: Review: Lanka’s Princess

Get to know the author: 

A senior journalist with a career of over two decades, which includes working for Magna publication and DNA, she quit her job as Assistant Editor of Times of India to devote herself as a full time author. A self-styled aficionado of cinema and theatre and sufficiently armed with a post-graduate degree in English Literature and Mass Communication from the University of Pune, the only skill she knows, she candidly confesses, is writing.
Karna’s Wife her debut novel, (2013)was a bestseller. Her second novel – Sita’s Sister (2014) also deals with another enigmatic personality – Urmila, probably the most overlooked character in the Ramayan. Menaka’s Choice(2015) ,another best-seller, is about the famous apsara and her infamous liaison with Vishwamitra the man she was sent to destroy. Lanka’s Princess (2016) is her fourth book based on Ravan’s sister, Surpanakha, the Princess of Lanka who was also its destroyer…
Born in Mumbai, a childhood spent largely in Patna and Delhi , Kavita currently lives in Pune with her mariner husband Prakash and two daughters Kimaya and Amiya with Chic the black cocker spaniel and Cotton the white, curious cat.

 

 

Interview:

  • Did your career as a journalist somehow inspire you to become an author? 
As a journalist I had written non fiction for more than two decades! I wanted to test my creative writing skills and gathering enough courage, ventured into writing a novel. That’s how my debut book Karna’s Wife came about. It was more about testing myself.
  • Did you always want to write on Indian Mythology? What has been your experience like as an author of Mythology?
Mythology as a subject greatly fascinated me while I was studying English literature when I came in contact with Greek, Norse and Celtic mythology besides the fact that I grew up on a staple diet of Amar Chitra Kathas! Another favourite subject was history so I guess somewhere down the line I unconsciously leaned towards mythology as a genre when I decided to write my first novel.
Mythology is a huge canvas where you can add colour without damaging the whole picture. It’s not about retelling ancient tales of God or simply about  good vs evil : mythology is a lesson in knowing about Man and his follies and fallacies. Holds true especially now.
I receive so many questions on my books and our mythology from readers aged 18  to 30 and I realise they want to know so much more. It’s a void they want filled by writers of mythology.
  • Tell us a little about your latest book, ‘Lanka’s Princess’.
As the title says it’s about Surpanakha, Ravan’s sister whom we rarely see as Lanka’s princess. She is that ugly woman whose nose got chopped off. Yet she is the one who started the war. She is the turning point in the plot and pushes  forward the second part of the narrative of the epic. Also, besides Ravan,  she is the antagonist of the latter part as was Manthara and Kaikeyi in the earlier section of the Ramayan.  Yet what do we know of her?
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  • Your books are always well-researched. So what’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research online for your book?
While researching,  I often find the way the stories in our epics and mythology are woven within another and this interweaving is truly amazing. It is like a maze and connecting the dots  is a challenge. For instance I just realised Shishupal and the Pandavas were maternal cousins! It keeps coming and I have to make a concerted effort to stop reading and researching and get down to some writing!
  • Of all the characters you have written about, which is your favourite and why?
Urmila! My first book was to be about her but not having enough research material on her, I started on Karna’s Wife instead. But Menaka was one of the more difficult characters to sketch, adding to her shades of grey yet not to make her dark and negative. She was a temptress, a consummate seductress who used her wiles to succeed, she was a mother who abandoned two daughters- certainly not the perfect woman, is she? Yet she fell in love with the man she was meant to destroy. She was the reason for the downfall and rise of the most powerful man. Must have been a remarkable woman and that’s how I portrayed her in my book Menaka’s Choice.
  • Describe your ideal writing space. 
Physically I don’t like to write on a desk. I find it confining. I just need a quiet room with lots of sunlight and greenery. Also I never write in the night. That’s when the ideas rush in!
  • What is something memorable you have heard from your readers/fans?
Each time a reader gives his feedback, I am truly touched. The most humbling moment was when Karna’s Wife was compared favourably to the classic Mritunjay. Or the moment when I received a hand written letter by a 90 year old fan hand delivered by his grand son! It was incredibly heart warming.
  • A book that had a deep impact on you.
Most books do so in some way or the other and  it would be unfair to name one.
  • Million dollar question, are you working on another book?
Yes!
  • Lastly, tell us something about yourself no one knows. 
I hate chocolate!
I feel extremely honoured to have Kavita Kane on the blog and had a great time interviewing her.

Author Interview: Nishant Kaushik

Meet the author.

When I read ‘My father is a Hero’ I was awed by the author’s ability to capture elements in his novel that usually go unnoticed.The contribution and sacrifices that go in nurturing a child by a single father has been beautifully written. And what better way to know more about the author than to hound him for an interview? (I AM KIDDING, OKAY). The author was extremely kind and generous to offer his time to do an interview for The Literary Cat.

You can read the review of My Father is Hero here: Review: My Father is a Hero

Get to know the Author:

Nishant Kaushik is the author of six published novels. He also keeps a day job as a business, IT, and something-of-everything consultant in Melbourne. Along his journey as a novelist he has interned as a screenplay consultant, a comic book co-writer, a columnist for journals like Yowoto and Mildred – essentially, he loves experimenting with genres ranging from full-length novels to guest articles. He lives in Australia with his wife and son.

Interview:

  • Hello, Sir. Thank you for taking out time to do an interview. When did you first realise you wanted to become a writer?

NK: There was no single trigger. My interest in writing evolved over years, from spot-storytelling and essay writing competitions in school, to articles for the college magazine, followed by a couple of poems for newspaper supplements. As far as I can remember, the idea of my first novel finally occurred to me when I was 19. It was finally published when I was nearly 24.

  • What inspired you to write your latest novel, “My Father is a Hero”?

NK: My inspiration lies in my own and many other wonderful fathers I have met in my life. Unlike a mother’s love that is much talked about, a father’s love is rather understated. One often has to peel through their tough, terse exteriors to understand their love. Even today when I talk to my father, we exchange few words. But he has always shown through his actions that he has a heart of gold. This golden heart is the basis on which I fashioned my central character.

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  • Tell us a little about your book.

        NK: My Father Is A Hero is a fictional account of a single father’s determined journey towards seeing his daughter emerge as a successful, confident girl with the passion to pursue her passion. It also speaks of the struggles of a middle-class family and how love trumps all troughs that are associated with a mediocre career, self-conflicts during adolescence, and the regret of an unfulfilled dream.

  • What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

NK: I have specific requirements on the ambience around me. I cannot write at home, I must find a café that stays open until late in the night. It must be crowded enough for me to observe people, but not too crowded to find a seat. And the table must NOT be rickety!

  • Where did your love for books/storytelling/writing come from?

NK: I will attribute that to the several books written by Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain I read when I was a young boy. I wish I had sustained this habit of reading.

  • What does your family think of your writing?

NK: They are very honest about what they feel, and I guess that is how it should be. They praise my work where it is due, but also warn me against mediocrity. I recently canned a manuscript I had been working on, because my mother read a draft and felt it was going nowhere. I always rely on them for feedback.

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Nishant Kaushik with his son. ADORBS.
  • Are there any new authors who have grasped your interest?

NK: As I said I haven’t maintained the reading habit much. But Khaled Hosseini and Aravind Adiga are among a few authors whose recent books I have enjoyed reading.

  • How is Nishant Kaushik like when he’s not writing?

NK: A regular office goer who struggles to make time between daily chores, family duties, and sleep that I am always in dire need of.

  • If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about any of your novels?

NK: I would un-heed all advice I got during my early years as an author that told me I needed erotica and cuss words to make my work commercially viable.

  • A piece of advice you’d like to give to budding authors.

NK: The best advice I can give to anyone who wants to write is to not seek advice. Writing is an experience unique to every writer, and we all discover in our own ways what makes our work work. This journey is sacrosanct and we should not tamper with it too much by looking for templated tips on dos and dont’s.

 

I hope you had as great a time reading the blog post as I had writing and interviewing. Stay tuned for more interesting interviews!

Author Interview: Shazia Omar

Candid interview with author Shazia Omar.

I had the great opportunity to interview the author of Like a Diamond in the Sky and Dark Diamond, Shazia Omar, who not only has established herself as a prolific writer but is one of the most humble human beings I had the pleasure to interact with. There’s a lot more to her than what meets the eye. I was really skeptical about asking for an interview but Shazia Omar was happy to be a part of my blog. (Author goals, you guys)

If you want to know more about her novel, head back to my blog to read a detailed review.

Get to know the Author:

Shazia Omar is not only a Bangladeshi novelist but is also a social psychologist,  developmental professional and Pilates instructor. Her debut novel Like a Diamond in the Sky was published by Penguin India and Zubaan in 2009. She studied in Dartmouth College and London School of Economics and is currently residing in Bangladesh.

 

Let’s get straight to the interview: 

Hello, Ma’am, Thank you so much for taking out time to do an interview for us.  Did you always dream of becoming a writer?

Yes!  Always. I started writing stories when I was 9 or 10, in little notebooks. And I read all the time.

 

  Where did the idea behind Dark Diamond stem from?

I wanted to write a story about Bangladesh’s rich past that looked back beyond the 1971 war of independence, much further back, to a time when Bengal was at the peak of its power. My grandmother lived near the Lal Bagh Fort so I grew up hearing about the handsome Mughal Subedar Shayista Khan, who built the fort. As a child, I was curious to know more about him, but there were no storybooks or movies about his adventures.

 

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Tell us about your book Dark Diamond.

Dark Diamond is the story of Mughal Viceroy Shayista Khan who rules Bengal in 1685. He was not only superbly rich (a billionaire by today’s standards), he was also a Sufi poet.  He faced many enemies: Arakans, the East India Company, Marathas, rebellious Zamindars, religious zealots… Oddly, I discovered that all the enemies he faced then are the enemies we struggle with today, so writing the story felt immediate and real. Also, magic realism is perhaps my favorite genre, so I played with that a bit. 

Can you give us some tips to overcome  writer’s block?

Eavesdrop on someone’s conversation. Preferably a heated argument.
Try introducing a new character.
Read.
Turn off Facebook.

 

Writing is a solitary process and requires a lot of perseverance. How do you keep yourself motivated to write?

Coffee. Chocolate. Almonds.

 

If you were stranded on an island and you could choose only one book, what book would that be?

Dummies Guide to Build a Boat.

 

 Are you planning on writing another novel?

Yes. I have a few ideas but I’m not sure which one will finally blossom.

 

 Tea or coffee? (This question has a potential to start a war)

Ha ha, Tall, Skinny, Latte, hot. =)

 

 

Lastly, if you could, what advice would you give to your teenage self?

Learn yoga! (I did eventually, but I wish I had started earlier.)
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A striking pose by Shazia Omar as she gives us fitness goals.

 

The author also had a really fun time answering my questions as stated by her (I am not lying, okay).

Thankyou ,Shazia Omar, for gracing my blog with your presence. We hope to see more of your writings in the future.