Author Interview: Deepti Menon on Satire, Stories and War


Deepti Menon is a well-known name among writers’ circles in India. Writing runs in her blood, as does teaching. She has lived in the Army as a child, and then as a wife, and travelled around the country to places, both beautiful and challenging. In 2002, Arms and the Women, her light-hearted book on life, as seen through the eyes of an Army wife, was published by Rupa Publishers, Delhi.
Many of her short stories have seen the light of day in anthologies as
varied as 21 Tales to Tell, Upper Cut, Chronicles of Urban Nomads, Mango
Chutney, Crossed and Knotted, Rudraksha, Love—an Anthology, The Second Life
and A Little Chorus of Love.

Today, Deepti Menon has agreed to give me an interview for my blog. We’ll talk about many a things, though our focus will be on satire as Mock, Stalk and Quarell, Readomania’s recent offering on satire in form of an anthology has been published and is available in online and offline stores all over India.

AN: How are you doing? Are you ready?

DM: Hi, Anirban! I am like that famed battery… Eveready!

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AN: Ha ha! Good. Our focus of this interview will be on mainly satire. Satire, as we know, is difficult to master. It is a fine art. Can you tell us what inspired you to write a satirical tale? What makes writing satire so difficult?

DM: Writing satire is like tightrope walking. You can either walk on it, perfectly balanced, like a professional artiste, or you can make a perfect clown of yourself as you tumble over in a heap. Satire is a fine-tuned instrument, the kind of writing that needs to hit the target that it is aimed at. If you miss it, you end up sounding ludicrous or hyperbolic.

AN: We have seen recently the bold steps taken by the government, and we are also witnessing the social and political changes India is going through. Many have different opinions about these issues and events. What do you think of the role of satire in expressing one’s opinion in present time?

DM: 2016 will certainly go down as a red-letter year for many reasons – money matters, (pun intended), the Trump card and of course, the end of the Amma era in Tamil Nadu. Is it a coincidence that Cho Ramaswamy, noted humorist and political satirist, also passed away soon after?

Right from ancient times, satire was always seen as a weapon to hold up the ills of society. It is no different today as well. If two pieces are written on the same subject, one in prosaic language and the other veiled in satire, it is always the second one that will evoke more curiosity, and drive the point home, in my opinion.

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AN: In the current Indian literary scene, we see a significant lack of satirical work. What is your response to such a situation?

DM: Very true, Anirban! The reason lies within ourselves. We, the homo sapiens, have turned into a dour, humourless society, unable to take a joke in the right spirit, be it in the case of cartoons, books, movies, newspaper articles or even WhatsApp messages. The powers above scream, like the proverbial Queen of Hearts in ‘Alice in Wonderland’, “Off with their heads!” And out pop the bans, which ironically, work well for those banned as they bring up the curiosity quotient.

Isaac Hayes couldn’t have put it more aptly when he said, “There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins.”

 
AN: In your story in Mock, Stalk and Quarrel titled, The Little Princess, we see a girl in search of true love, defying the social norms. Though, on closer look, it seems more like a parody. Through a mere matter of groom-matching, you have brought out the political situations of the country in a subtly humorous way. Tell us how you have come up with the idea of this story.

DM: Frankly, Anirban, this was a harmless little story that I had written a decade ago, because I wanted to come out with something light-hearted. It did not have any political allusions at all. When the idea of an anthology on satire came about, I stuck to the same story, but added on the rest, so that my story would fit the bill.

AN: Apart from situational comedy, we find many funny Wodehousian dialogues like:

“So what do you think? Isn’t he handsome?” Her eyes twinkled as she smiled at her daughter.

“Hardly, Mamma! He can get lost in a crowd of two!” The girl’s answer ruffled her mother’s feathers.

I have also read an article on Wodehouse by you. How has Wodehouse influenced you in your writing?

DM: I adore Wodehouse, and so, I love this question. I think his books are the epitome of good humour wrapped around in a writing style that is unique. I would often sit and chuckle over certain portions, even when I was travelling, and earned many strange looks in the process! I also feel that humour is one of the most difficult genres to master, and he is a master, indeed. I have friends who disagree with me on this point, but each to their own.

AN: At the end, the man with whom the girl falls in love identifies himself as ‘the Common Man’. In context of love and politics, its significance is something interesting to note down. Do you think that both a lover and a leader can be found amid the Common Man?

DM: “I think comedy and satire are a very important part of democracy, and it’s important we are able to laugh at the idiosyncrasies or the follies or vanities of people in power.” So said Rory Bremner.
I think in an ideal democracy, it should be the Common Man who rules. After all, it he who votes and brings people to power. So, a lover and a leader can be found in the Common Man. Please note that I am not alluding to the present Common Man, high on cough syrup, who sports a scarf.

AN: Recently, you have published your new novel Shadow in the Mirror under Readomania. Many congratulations to you for this success. What difference did you find between writing a short-story and a full-fledged novel? Of course, apart from short stories are short. Ha ha!

DM: Ha ha, indeed! J Thank you so much, Anirban. I feel that short stories need more skill, and that’s purely my opinion, because an entire story with a beginning, a middle and an end, needs to be encapsulated within a given word limit. Hence, the writing needs to be brief, and yet, sparkle enough to catch the imagination of the reader. A novel is a longer read, and the author has time to meander through the theme and make it work at a more leisurely pace.

AN: I have read your stories in Defiant Dreams, Urban Nomads and When They Spoke. A recurring theme of women empowerment can be noticed in your stories. This is also true for the story in Mock, Stalk and Quarrel too. There has not been a better time when the topic of women empowerment is of such importance. What do you think, as a writer, of the role of women in modern creative writing in India?

DM: My stories write themselves. I have never deliberately written a story on women’s empowerment. However, the issue is, perhaps, so strongly engrained in my psyche, that it comes out as a subconscious narrative. I think that all writers, men and women, should try and bring in a renaissance of gender equality and the empowerment of women and children.

AN: Does your new novel touch on similar issues?

DM: ‘Shadow in the Mirror’ is a work of fiction that has autobiographical elements in it. Thus, one of my main characters, who is a journalist, does fight against various issues that impact women negatively.

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AN: What do you think of the current Indian literary scene? Also about the publishing trends?

DM: The current Indian literary scene is bursting at its seams with new writers being born and published every day. Today, everyone can write, and does, sometimes well, and at other times, with disastrous results. But I do think that it is a very positive trend which will throw up “full many a gem of purest ray serene” that would otherwise remain hidden “in the dark unfathomed caves of (the) ocean”.

Publishers have also mushroomed over the years. Today you have traditional publishers, vanity publishers and self-publishing, as well. Hence, it is easier to get your manuscript published than it was in the past, like back in 2002, when my first book, ‘Arms and the Woman’ (Rupa Publishers, Delhi) got published.

AN: Name a few of your favourite authors.

DM: George Eliot, Alexander Dumas for their classics, Somerset Maugham, O Henry, Guy de Maupassant and Jeffrey Archer for their short stories, and Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle for their mysteries, are among my favourites. I also enjoy Indian writers like RK Narayan, Ruskin Bond, Shashi Tharoor, Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee and Jaisree Mishra. I have also enjoyed all the books I have read from the Readomania collection.

AN: As an experienced writer, your advice to young writers?

DM: Love books, read and savour them, and identify the genre with which you want to be associated. Most importantly, enjoy what you write, for if you don’t like your own writing, no one else will either.

AN: Thank you for this interview. It’s been a pleasure.

 

DM: Thank you so much, Anirban, for the interesting questions. All the best with all your writing, and God bless!

AN: Thank you very much. Same to you.

 

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A pocket-masterpiece: review of A Dog Eat Dog-Food World


A Dog Eat Dog-Food World by C.Suresh was silently published a year ago. A slim book. Only some 90 pages long. But so good that I couldn’t ignore reviewing it.

I had read it when it was published and then read again a few months back. And I realized that when your view about a book changes drastically upon multiple readings, it must be too layered to be understood in the first read. Hence, though I did write a short review on Goodreads a year ago, I think, it deserves a more elaborate treatment.

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The book starts with a declaration that it is a pseudo-history, i.e. what would have happened if the things that would happen in the book were true. In other words, an alternate history. To give a sense of the period in which the book is set, the narrator says,

Incidentally, difficult though it must be to believe, the world was not always run by computers and a cell-phone was not something that could only be removed from the body by surgery.

This is a story of an entrepreneur, about how too much money and boredom caused him to start a business, where he hoped he’d be able to spend all his money. Here, the author doesn’t forget to mildly poke fun at the wealth distribution in the world:

People with no money knew what to do with the money, which they did not possess, but people with money seemed merely to be burdened by it. Something was seriously wrong with the disbursal system in Heaven.

Anyway, to find the right business Spike Fortune (yes, what a name!) recruited his nephew Jerry. And thus the concept of boss and subordinate came.

“You are not paid to think, Jerry! Just do as you are told.” Spike did not realize that he had just set the conversational trend for all employers for some time to come.

And what was the business? Yes, as the title suggests, the dog-food! And here, the author brings out some excellent descriptions which are humorous, vivid and full of allusions.

Thus brooding, Jerry moodily kicked at the ground – as human beings are wont to do when they are unable to kick the reason for their worry. Only, the ground seemed a bit squashy and, before Jerry could even take that message in, his entire horizon was full of teeth and fur and a deafening growl.

[…]

When the barking turned suddenly into a duet, he looked around to find a stout middle-aged man also barking at him. It was then that he realized that a chain connected the dog and the man, which meant that one of them was the other’s pet. But for that chain, Jerry would have been minus a nose by now.

[…]

Jerry froze. Had he been a character in a comic, a bright light would have lit up above his head. Then, he jumped up yelling unoriginally, “Eureka”, tripped over the hot water tub and fell down full length. Unlike Archimedes, who got his idea in his bath, Jerry had a bath on getting his idea, with the contents of the hot water tub inundating him.

You get the idea.

There are more on employer-employee relations and office politics. Like appearance of effort is more important than the effort itself.

He was happy that Jerry had done enough work to write a big report but it was too much to expect that he should have to do the work of reading it.

“What is this?”

“The project report for the business, Uncle”, said Jerry.

“Throw that crap down the chute. What does it say? What is the business?”

“D.. D.. Dog foods”, said Jerry, thereby creating the world’s first executive summary.

First thing that happened after the introduction of the cat food, apart from huge sell of the product, was the division of class based on having dog-food.

Also, of course, dog-lovers had now become stratified into the upper class of those who fed dog foods to their dogs and the lower class of those who did not.

And as often happens, when one business flourishes, other similar businesses open up and become rivals. Cat-food Inc was born. The rival was Tom, Spike’s childhood friend. To keep score against your rival, what you do? You come up with market research. And thus, scientific market research came into being. They surveyed the customers and they found that the dog-owners’ responses to their dog-foods were based on how the owners’ days had gone, not whether the dogs liked it. Subtly, the author hints at the real face of market-research; it is more about how the customer feels than how the actual consumer feels.

“My Rosie… she is so cute… when I give her the food, she licks it… so daintily you know… then rolls her eyes like she is in Heaven… then… she is so clever… she gets her tongue around one morsel and.. crunch… she just loves that sound…” and so on and so forth. From which, the young men came to the conclusion, quite rightly, that the entire process of Rosie’s meal was the highlight of her owner’s day. Though it said nothing much about Rosie’s preferences or about what the dog enjoyed the most.

As expected, slowly but inadvertently, the concept of advertising came next. Not only it shows the rise of advertising in every corner of our life, trying to get our attention as much as possible, it also shows how it affects our thinking.

Within a couple of months, not a citizen in the country could walk the streets safe from a soulful dog looking down on him from a hoarding and saying, ‘Won’t you get me DogFood Inc’s dog food, please!”

[…]

Nor were the scrap-feeders spared the ignominy of having their nefarious activities exposed. The pick of the hoardings was of a sweet dog gazing longingly at DogFood Inc’s dog food, while a brutal man tugged at its leash. The speech balloon above the dog said,” Please! I want DogFood Inc’s dog food.” The speech balloon above the man’s head was, “You dumb brute! Don’t think I am going to pamper you.”

[…]

Every time they fed their dogs leftovers, they felt like that brutal man who denied his poor dog the chance to eat good food. Every time they looked at their dogs, it seemed as though they were looking accusingly at them and complaining of ill-treatment. They had to give in.

Similarly, the corporate jargon emerged, to show an utterly simple matter in a complicated language. “Incomprehensibility is wisdom” – seemed the mantra. No wonder management degrees have such high demand.

Later, they went on to advertise the idea of dog as a protector or cat as a mice-eater. Glorifying dogs would glorify its keepers i.e. the owners. In other words, whatever is good for the dog was good for the owner. On closer inspection, you see, such things are shown everywhere – be it a smartphone company or a deodorant manufacturer. Having a smartphone means you’re smart, applying a particular deodorant makes you a real man.

The dog-show, like a tech-fest, did just that.

To win prizes in dog shows bestowed an aura on the winners that almost rivalled Royalty. The erstwhile door-to-door salesmen worked to such good effect that the entire country did all the other trivial jobs associated with living in Society – like agriculture – in the brief intervals between dog shows.

It doesn’t end here. This concept is further broadened later – to spread the goodness of feeding your dog the proper food throughout the world – and voila, we have the concept of colonization.

The crowning glory would come when it started determining what you ought to wish for and thrust it on you.

The concept of a product can be rooted so deep that it can give rise to racism. The companies decided to label a particular pet for a particular class, and thereby, a particular type of food for that pet. This is another name of – you know it very well – market segmentation. Persian cat was for high class society, the alley cat for utilitarian. Strangely, due to presence some rare nutrients in Persian cat-food, it was priced three times more. Division of such classes led to:

Lady 1: “Oh! Alvin is here! What a perfect Pekinese man! And his wife Dora is such a happy person, as who would not be when married to Alvin”

Lady 2: “Do you know what he has gone and done? Bought an Alsatian!”

Lady 1: “No, really? The fellow has hidden predatory instincts, then? Wouldn’t be surprised if he beats his wife. I always thought that Dora must be hiding her unhappiness. She smiles too brightly.”

Lady 2: “You never can trust appearances these days”

Or,

“Ellen never did know how to bring up children. Heard what her eldest has done? Married a Balinese owner.”

“Oh! Thrown over Peter, has she? Such a perfect boy – good Persian owner stock. What are these young girls coming to?”

“I blame Ellen. If she does not get a hold on her children, her second daughter may end up marrying a dog-owner.”

Both ladies would then look at each other with horrified pleasure.

The corporate became so powerful that they started affecting the government and had it amend laws that would help them. This is a hint to capitalism which later at the final sentence is alluded by, “The invisible hand has writ and, having writ, moved on. Now, we are all left staring aghast at the writing on the wall!”

So we see that though on surface it seems a mere fun story of how two rivals of pet-food compete, many darker, more complicated issues are subtly hidden underneath. And only upon carefully studying these lines, one would be able to truly appreciate how layered this deceptively simple looking novella is.

After a long time, I have read a work of satire that is so good that it can stand proudly with other great satirical works. I am quite amazed about this little masterpiece and I hope that a work like this would be widely read and appreciated.

Telegram, a potential new literary magazine .



I don’t write reviews of magazines, but I want to make an exception for this one. Tons of online lit-mags are coming out every month and most of them are of sub-standard quality in terms of content, design and editing. Telegram, on the other hand, stands out as a magazine exclusively devoted to literature.

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To review Telegram, I’ll take one issue (September Issue) as a sample and give an overall reaction.

It contains a balanced mix of poetry, short stories, reviews, discussions and non-fiction articles related to literature, music and art in general. It also has a fun quiz section on literature.

The theme for September is Cityscape; stories that are connected to your hometown, stories where cities become characters. All the stories have successfully achieved this. There is Bus Route 86 by Percy Wadiwala which describes Mumbai in the span of a bus ride. Its cricket, its humdrum, its buildings and corners – everything come into life as the narrator remembers his childhood city and the city now, how it has changed over years. Parallel to this cityscape, there runs another story, story of a failed love and tussle between two friends, powered by ego and politics. The end is both surprising and apt. A fine piece of fiction.

Prayag by Nilesh Mondal tells a person’s experience in a new city via a letter sent to a friend who has never tried to become intimate with her city. Madras and Pondichery come to life as the narrator describes his experiences at both places, and how he has fallen in love with the new city more than his hometown. This story is both description-wise beautiful – you get to experience all the five senses – and effective to incite the urge to know your city, to feel home with it. The result is a satisfying and nostalgic read.

Local Politician by Abhyudaya Shrivastava is a humorous take on a local politician during a bus ride. The hypocrisy is brought out brilliantly, in a way that is not at all offensive.

The poems go with the same rhythm like short fictions. Augmented Reality and Souvenir are the poems I loved. The Home I Left is a long poem wonderfully written that chronicles the journey of a city as it grows old. It reminded of a poem by Jibanananda Das which starts like: “I am walking for a thousand years…”

The discussion on Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and the study of the relationship between madness and literature is surprisingly insightful. I did not anticipate such a well researched article. It should be noted that Mrs Dalloway is often compared and discussed along with Jane Eyre and Wild Sargasso Sea. A few interesting observations could have been added to the article then.

A detailed and well written review of Persopolis is also there in the issue. Glad to see a graphic novel getting place in the magazine.

I was saving the cover story for the last, because I think it is of huge importance. The cover story on the upcoming Indian music bands is very informative and an example of good journalism. I like to mention that the article on JNU published in the July issue is also a very good one. I enjoyed reading that. There is a humour and truth in the reports, making them quite engaging.

One thing I like to suggest is to include one or two lines about the contributors after the index page or at the end of each piece.

Overall, I like to say that a magazine like this gives me hope that something good is happening in Indian literature. I believe, if it keeps up this quality, it’ll see bright days in its future. I have become a regular reader of this magazine.

Review: In the Light of Darkness


Radhika Maira Tabrez’s debut novel is one of the anticipated books for me this year. But even after that, for reasons not in my control, I couldn’t pick up the book till now.

I finished it a few hours ago, and here goes my two paises (Indianization, you see. No cent or penny from now on.) on the book.

The book’s epigraph says,

The real battle between good and bad is determining which is which.


This is an appropriate line for this book, as most of the characters essentially struggle for determining what is good and what is bad, what is light and what is dark. This is the theme on which an intricate story is developed in a fictional town called Bydore. But the town is so well-drawn that I never felt it is a fictional place.

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The main characters (note the plural) of this book have murky pasts which are slowly exposed as we move along with the story. Because of their pasts, they struggle to come to terms with their own demons. Like Susan and Matthew suffer a continuous tension between themselves for situations out of their control. The depth of the relationship between a son and a mother is very well portrayed here even without much direct conversation between them. A letter and its sentence by sentence impact on Matthew makes him realize the true motives behind Susan’s acts which otherwise seems selfish and escapist. And thus Matthew becomes a changed person.

An abused and betrayed wife who gets a shelter at Susan’s house also tries to build a whole new identity and life in Bydore. But when everything is becoming perfect and life seems enjoyable, another fateful event shatters her. From there, she again battles to stand up and be strong enough to accept the happiness  that she doesn’t think she deserves.

Of all things, what impressed me about Tabrez’s debut is that her handling of  human emotions. She did it so convincingly that one cannot doubt any action done by any character.

But this same thing also sometimes works against the flow of the story. Everything need not be explained. Stating this, I must comment that as a debut, this is pretty good one. I actually felt sorry when I ended it which spans some 260+ pages. If a writer can make a reader feel that at the end, I think she has done a great job.

With her caliber of which I am well aware of, I expect she will be able to produce some wonderful work in near future.

On Smiles and Stock Exchange- Review of Alayne’s Smile


Call it a privilege or a sheer luck that I’m able read quite a few short stories written by Percy Wadiwala, it takes a refined taste to be able to truly appreciate the quality of the works. I’ll talk about a particular story in this post here, which is titled as Alayne’s Smile”.

The story is told by the author himself, who is also a character in the story. As always, the writing is subtle and humorous. The writer often makes fun of himself like:

“What do you think, Jormund?’ Kevan asked now, turning his attention to me. I had been trying to blend into the background, but evidently, I did not sufficiently resemble a tree bark to be able to pull it off.

This is a story about saving Alayne from being trapped in her bankrupt father’s cringeworthy marriage negotiation with a business tycoon’s wasted son. The saviors are her friends studying economics in North Midgard (Midgard is a fictional town where most of Wadiwala’s stories are set). The most ardent of them is Kevan who fell in love with the girl the moment he put his eyes on her. They all are quite well acquainted with the different facets of stock exchange.

The way new secrets about the lineage of the pivotal character are exposed is no less gripping than a detective mystery. The rise and fall in hopes among the characters (Alayne’s hope to be free, Kevan’s hope to marry her), are drawn in parallel with the similar nature of stock exchange. It as unpredictable as life itself. Also, on the mindset of people towards Persian community in Mumbai (yes, Midgard is based on Mumbai) , Wadiwala perfunctorily inserts:

“So if I’m following you a-right, Jayne, Alayne is a member of House Stone. Still, being descended from them through the female line won’t help her much. The family fortune must be devolving on some snotty pure-blood non-veg eating, bad-word using fire-worshipper. Her father isn’t one of them, and clearly it was a shotgun wedding if he got her knocked up. Alayne would have been turfed out of the line of succession even before she was born,” pointed out Fatty, who had rather biased views of Persian migrants.


This shows that there are far more significant issues underneath the story than it appears if one looks closely.
And amid all the interesting happenings in front, the author masterfully draws the map of the fictional town Midgard, like background score of a good piece of music. The dialogues, the setting are so lucid and well depicted that one wouldn’t realize when he is in the story too, living it though all his senses.

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More than anything, I loved the subtlety of characterization in this story. Alayne couldn’t escape from her liability to her father, Kevan couldn’t escape from the fact that his love for Alayne was doomed from the beginning. This inevitability of the events attributes to the melancholy tone of the story. Thus, Wadiwala’s deft handling of humor and helplessness make reading this story both compelling and necessary.

Review: Neon Noon


Lately, I have not been able to read as much as I was reading earlier this year. Among the two books I read in last four weeks, this one is something that I’d read again. I have been following Tanuj Solanki’s stories online at many places and going by the quality of those, I had a high expectation from his debut. And this book delivered.

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As a writer, or better say as an aspiring writer ‘who knows he can’t write but still writes’ this book has resonated with me on many levels. So after reading it the first time, I went on to read it the second time.

This is a book about the making of a writer, his struggle to express what he feels, his attempts to come to terms with love and literature.

The book starts with a short story (a brilliant one at that) by another budding writer sent to the protagonist of the novel for beta-reading. The protagonist is introduced in his intermediate stage of being in a relation and going to PATTAYA (the place where most of the events happen) in this short story. In the book it is said somewhere that the beginning of a work should not be The Beginning or The End, but something that says nothing yet says a lot. This story acts as a perfect introduction to the novel. It is kind of stylish. I have not seen such introduction of characters. You may read ‘The Other Room’ online. I think it was published independently as a story.

Next, the book goes back to the love life of the protagonist. It is told in flashbacks. And it is done marvelously. The author never tries to draw an elaborate picture, but rather provides small details in fragments. This is how a person remembers his past; in fragments. His lover is from France. He tries to learn French so that the barrier of language can’t be there between them anymore. And in trying to learn it, we see the writer in him is slowly developing. The parallel description of past and artistic development is done so fluently that I wonder at the apparent lucidity of the book.

But this is a very complex book, written word by word, carefully.

After this comes part 2 of the book, titled as ‘The Bachelor’. This is my favourite part. This has small segments that step by step show the post-breakup emotional blockage and the Bachelor’s tryst to create literature. His attempt to find a way by which he can transform his pain into literature. He finally writes something near the end, a thought, a bitter truth. A realization. And he cries after writing that down. I’ll quote those lines:

“Interred deep within the labyrinth of my inner life is a masterpiece, though I shall require a talent as good as an oil rig to make it gush forth, and even then my broken imagination may prove to be that faulty little part, that worn-out-safety-valve, that allows everything to spill and burn, and then all we would have would be the silent ashes of my masterpiece, though that shouldn’t bother me much, for floating ashes are what all masterpieces end up as.”


At the end, the Bachelor writer says, “I’m such a compulsive archivist of myself.” I think it is said to show the pride and contentment of a young writer who realizes something important and ready to go forth writing, no matter how difficult it is.

The pivotal part of this novel is the 3rd chapter, Neon Noon. The protagonist goes to Pattaya, mainly in search of sex. By then, he has an idea of a novel where the protagonist would be a half-Indian half-French, his son, and a great poet. He will be caught up in finding his true identity, where he belongs, and will therefore shuttle from one continent to another. The son can be interpreted in many ways. One of them is that the son is actually the fruit of the protagonist’s artistic imagination, a work that would provide him all the answers he has been searching. The part about meeting Orhan in Pattaya confirms this. When he says, “In this city of pleasure, pain has suffered genocide”, it has a deep impact on the writer/protagonist. It reminded him that, just searching for sex or solace or pleasure would not provide him what he wants. It is the girl Noon who shows him that even after a heart-break one has the capability to love again. Note that the emphasis is on capability. This is an important point and builds the culmination point of the novel. Meeting Noon, and then realizing he has the ability to fall in love with her, and after falling for her, being able to come to terms with yet another heartbreak make him realise the difference between being in love and being able to love. The book ends with him tearing the photo of his ex-girlfriend and wanting Noon to see that. This shows that he has finally moved on, after accepting his version of life, literature and love.

Solanki’s style is new, but not showy. It has a certain air of confidence and you’d never feel the story is written by a debutante. I look forward to his future work with an ardent interest.

I would recommend this book for readers with an affinity to subtle and intelligent literature.

P.S. I have bought the hardcover version of the book and this is an unbiased review.

Confessions with Ayan Pal


I have been reading Ayan’s stories for a long time and recently met him personally and talked a lot about things. He has published his debut novel last month, about which we talked a lot before publication. Now that the book has been launched, I asked him to give me an interview for my blog. He happily agreed, and here is the result of that.

(This interview is arranged by e-mail and edited after getting all the transcripts.)

 

How are you doing?

I’m doing just fine! Provided being a combination of relieved (about the book being available), tensed (about the readers reactions), excited (about the endorsements that have come in so far), hopeful (that the bestseller ranks will keep getting better… the book has already entered the Top 30s on Amazon once), and thankful (to all my friends, family and fans who have come forward in support of this book), can be called fine!

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That’s so great! Congratulations! Can’t wait to talk about the book. But first, the usual: tell us something about you?

I am a Kolkata-based IT professional (I work in IBM) and author (I have been published 11 times so far). I have been lucky enough so far in having received several accolades for my work. These include the honour of my book being a record holder in the Limca Book of Records, the title of ‘Distinguished Toastmaster’ from Toastmasters International for demonstrating outstanding communication and leadership skills, and a ‘Brandon Hall Award’, considered as the ‘Academy Awards’ by Learning, Talent and Business Executives worldwide. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from VTU, Karnataka and have completed a course in Education Technology from SDSU, California.

I am passionate about public speaking. I also love reading, creative writing, watching and reviewing films, listening to music, and binge watching my favourite TV shows. Confessions on an Island is my solo debut novel.

 

When did you decide to start writing?

I wanted to take up writing as a career after watching M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. There were a few things in the film that made me introspect and the result was a decision to do whatever it takes to become an author. And thus maybe find a way to connect the dots in my life so far. Because I believe that there are no coincidences in life, much like the movie proclaimed. I also believe that this is my destiny and I will do whatever it takes to shape it to the best that I can.

What is your first story? You inspiration for it.

My first story was published in the Amazon bestseller 21 Tales to Tell. It was the result of a nationwide short story contest where I emerged as the 2nd best author, combining critics’ scores and readers’ votes. The story is titled ‘A choice between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh’. It’s inspired by a trip my mother and I took to Bangladesh and dedicated to my grandmother Attama.

The first story I read by you is ‘The Diary of Joseph Varughese’, published in Crossed and Knotted by Readomania. It has a very supernatural feel to it, though not shown in an obvious way. Do you like to introduce such supernatural-ism in your other works?

Of course! I think magic realism and supernatural elements complement a good plot perfectly.  I would definitely like to include them in more obvious ways in the future whenever presented with an opportunity for the same.

Your recently released novel has an intriguing title, ‘Confessions on an Island’. How was your experience on deciding the title for your debut book? I mean, how exactly did you come up with the title?

The naming of the novel was a combined effort by not just me, but also the publisher, beta readers, editor and my core family members. It was a daunting experience at first but once the name was finalized, everything kind of fell into place. And beautifully too!

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Confess something to us, how you met your love for the first time?

It’s funny really, but I met my wife Ankana when she came over to get 21 Tales to Tell autographed by me. She was a friend of a colleague and we had chatted for the first time on my mom’s birthday. And here’s the biggest confession – I proposed to her by writing a story that later went on to a feature in a bestselling book. I wrote the story first, and her acceptance made the ending come true later!

 

Wow! That’s nice. Well, I think I’ll leave it to the readers to guess the story. I read another story by you published in Chronicles of Urban Nomads. It was a confession of an inanimate object, a Benarasi saree. It was a sweet story. I see your novel is about confessions too. So, is the whole novel a confession?

Before I reveal anything about that, let me share a bit about my novel. Confessions on an Island is about a thrilling game akin to Russian Matryoshka Dolls that begins the moment a bestselling author trapped on an island attempts to narrate tales emerging from the stories that her intriguing abductor tells her, as a precondition for her freedom. The three narrators of the novel are a mysterious island, a bestselling author and an intriguing abductor. While the author and island narrate the odd chapters, the even chapters are standalone stories that the author and abductor share with each other. And everything that they say or do stems from or leads into a confession. In fact, several confessions. Some of them come back to haunt from the past, some shape the present, while a few are left to be explored in the future. So yes, the novel is about confessions!

 

Your prose has both clarity and beauty. Tell us about the authors who influenced your writing.

I have been influenced by several authors, sometimes maybe even unconsciously. But the ones who have had the most impact are JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling, Agatha Christie, Arundhati Roy, Khaled Hosseini, Satyajit Ray, Jhumpa Lahiri and Paulo Coelho.

 

What is the book that you read again and again? Why?

While growing up, I used to love reading the Barney Mystery series by Enid Blyton. Especially because they were a gift from my mom on my Birthday. Every read made me fall in love with the books even more – and I also play-imagined being them (the characters) during vacations! Apart from that, there was something about Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte that made it impossible to read it just once. And hence I did now stop myself from reading it multiple times, and no, it had nothing to do with the book being a part of my school curricula. As an adult however, mostly due to time constrains, I haven’t managed to read a lot of books multiple times. But the few times I have, it has been a wonderful exercise in rediscovery!

A case in point being the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. I read the first three books in quick succession and then while waiting for the fourth to release, re-read them once again. The experience made me realize there was so much more to the books, and I decided to read them again and again before every new release in the series. And I loved that! Likewise for The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Every read inspired me somehow. Hence whenever I feel a bit down, I simply re-read the book!

 

I hear this book is a part of a long series. Is it true?

I would like to believe that it is! It all depends of course on the success of the first one. Let’s see how it goes!

 

Tell us about the series.

I have a trilogy in mind – Trapped. Confessions on an Island is the first part of the Trapped trilogy. Some of the characters from the series will be playing major roles in a series of YA/Fantasy novels I have in mind for the future as well. More to be revealed in the future!

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You have a full-time corporate job. How do you manage to pursue such an ambitious project?

We have just one life, and I intend to make the most of it! I try and utilize whatever free time I have to write. This makes me write late nights, early morning, and over the weekends. I have to sacrifice socializing opportunities, my favourite TV shows, and sometimes reading too, which is the worst! But I do try and take breaks and do all of that too! My philosophy is simple really – do only one thing at a time. When I am at work, I do nothing else. When I am writing, none can make me do anything else. And I thank God for giving a wonderfully supporting wife and my biggest strength – my family. They ensure whatever they can, and at all times, to ensure I am able to balance my corporate and creative jobs. I wouldn’t be here without them!

 

What do you think about the role of anthologies in Indian publishing industry? What do you think about the TOI Write India controversy?

I feel multi-author anthologies that are thematically connected, like Defiant Dreams by Readomania for example, will continue to do well. Anthologies, at least for me, was a wonderful way of getting to know what works, and I can only hope the publishing industry realizes that it is a terrific tool to recognize potential within authors. As a business model however, single author anthologies by prominent authors can be a better bet. Take An Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri for instance. Both have done wonderfully, so I don’t see any reason behind an Indian anthology not working, provided its put together with some careful planning!

To answer the second part of your question, I feel the TOI Write India controversy could have been easily avoided had people truly realized the power of the pen. But having said that, all’s well that ends well! And I respect Vinita Dawria Nangina for publicly posting a clarification, and for authors like Ravi Subramanian for taking the stand that they did.

 

Thanks for mentioning Defiant Dreams (winks). What are your advice to aspiring writers?

Read, write, edit and repeat. The best way to learn is by reading. The best way to practice is by writing, and finally, the best way to analyse is by editing. Once you learn how to continue the process, you will emerge as the kind of writer you want to be. All the best!

Thank you for letting me interview you. Any parting words to our readers?

Confessions on an Island is not just a thriller, but also a roller coaster ride of emotions. I can guarantee you this – you will not regret your decision of giving it a shot!

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