- Bobby Kunhu
Interlude - Shruthi Rao
Hangwoman - KR Meera
When the Personal Becomes Political - Gita Aravamudan
Poetry by Sheri Vandermolen -
Doli Democracy - Madhulika Liddle
Smile; There's Only This Life - Janaki Murali
Beepathu Teacher - Bobby Kunhu
Being a Family - Daya Bhat
Renu Mashi - Shruti Sareen
City of Palaces - Sujata Massey
Resolving Ukraine - William Doreski
Robert's Rules - Melodie Corrigall
Poetry by Richard King Perkins -
Evening Out the Odds - Damyanti Ghosh
Damyanti - Mariam Karim
-Emma Donoghue (Karen Gabriel)
-Raghu Srinivasan (Proteeti Banerjee)
A God in Every Stone
-Kamila Shamsie (Mariam Karim)
-V Sanjay Kumar (Mita Bose)
-Kalyan Ray (Karen Gabriel)
The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey
-Hansda Sowendra Shekhar (Suneetha Balakrishnan)
A Dirge for the Damned
-Vishwas Patil (Mariam Karim)
-Sreemoyee Piu Kundu (Smita Sahay Karan)
Noon Tide Toll
-Romesh Gunesekera (Suneetha Balakrishnan)
The Blind Lady's Descendants
-Anees Salim (Suneetha Balakrishnan)
One Part Woman
-Perumal Murugan (Suneetha Balakrishnan)
-Sangeeta Bandopadhay (Divya Dubey)
-Chitra Viraraghavan (Suneetha Balakrishnan)
As a boy the only thing he wanted to be was a bird, a fork-tailed one. Anees Salim’s odysseys into the world of imagination seem to have given him wings rather than the tail he wanted. A man of few words, with a penchant for being invisible, Anees is quite prolific with his writing. He has produced four novels in two years, and the third, Vanity Bagh, was the winner of the Hindu Literary Prize 2013. His latest book The Blind Lady’s Descendants has just been released and is already receiving rave reviews.
Anees has a repertoire which is quite unusual for a new author on the block. His protagonists and premises are not exactly run-of-the-mill, but his people are those you might have seen just an hour ago at the corner, and crossed without a glance. His characterization lays emphasis on the fact that each individual, however mundane he or she may appear to be, has a story, and it could be exciting.
ELJ: You have said elsewhere that you wrote one book after another to kill the pain of rejection. Tell us, how does writing become your defence mechanism?
AS: Until my first book deal was made, not many people knew about my aspirations to be a writer. I never shared my writings with people who could probably have guided me, because many of these people were serious cynics and I dreaded they would demoralize me beyond repair. So writing was more or less a clandestine affair for me, and every time my manuscript was turned down, I had to lament in private. But I refused to be discouraged by rejections and the process of writing gradually turned into a kind of therapy. The deeper the wound, the bigger the dose of writing. I even started creating characters who aspired to be writers but failed, people who would not dump the idea of becoming the next big thing in Anglo-Indian writing even in the evening of their life. Teacher Bhatt, for instance, is one such character and his role model is Nirad C Chaudhuri simply because recognition came to Mr Chaudhuri very late in life.
ELJ: Vanity Bagh has a unique format which adds to the book’s appeal. Where did this come from? Why did you choose it? How was it advantageous?
AS: Vanity Bagh is not about one person, one place or one tragedy. The idea was to sketch a minuscule India with its own in-built Pakistan, complete with its enduring religious discord. But I wanted to do it without sounding too serious or preachy. I also wanted to weave in parallel stories about the mohalla. The challenge was to find a tool which was simple and effective at once. Then I realized every human being is worth quoting if they see themselves as important and talk to impress others. And I used these everyday quotes to sketch different lives without wandering away from the life of the protagonist.
ELJ: Vanity Bagh is such an innocent, almost deceptively simple book, but there is a lot of turmoil beneath the surface. What political statement do you make through the book?
AS: Vanity Bagh is about the Hindu-Muslim divide in India and the mutual distrust they have for each other. I can sense a new pang of fear in many Muslims and the possibility of new political equations.
ELJ: Mangobagh is a recurring locale and perhaps a motif as well. Could you talk more about how you created Mangobagh and why you have repeated it in your works? Does your new book have Mangobagh too?
AS: Mangobagh is the kind of city I would love to live in. A city that is old and crumpling, a city with narrow lanes and period structures, with its share of historical landmarks and eccentricities. But then Mangobagh could be any Indian city except the one I currently live in. I fashioned Mangobagh after the cities I have a soft corner for – Hyderabad, Delhi, Lucknow, and I used it as the setting for two of my novels, The Vicks Mango Tree and Vanity Bagh. There is one great thing about setting your novel in fictitious places. You can construct anything anywhere. I love this kind of town planning with words. My next book doesn’t have Mangobagh in it, not even an inch of it. Nor the one that comes after it. I badly want to set a book in my hometown, which is not known for its mangoes but for its beach.
ELJ: Could you tell us about the latest book, The Blind Lady’s Descendants?
AS: The Blind Lady’s Descendants was written about five years ago as my second novel and I wrote it as an old-fashioned saga. It deals with the misfortunes that befall a Muslim family living in a small town and its slow decadence.
ELJ: How are your books different from each other? How do you view and rate them as the author? Especially Tales from a Vending Machine, which seems to be of diluted intent when compared to the deeply reflective styles of Vanity Bagh and Vicks Mango Tree?
AS: Tales from a Vending Machine was written shortly after my first two manuscripts were rejected by all agents and publishers I had sent them to. So I decided to write something light and racy. I finished the manuscript in less than six months and found an agent in five minutes, and the agent sold it to a publisher in a week or so. More than finding itself a publisher, the book made the agent and a few publishers take serious interest in my other manuscripts. In that sense, Tales from a Vending Machine worked beautifully for me and fetched me four book deals. But I will never write a book like Tales from a Vending Machine again. Commercial fiction is not my cup of tea.
ELJ: How did you come up with the titles of your novels?
AS: They are a bit strange. But such strange names come easily to me and refuse to go away.
ELJ: How does ad copywriting hone or affect one's writing skills?
AS: In my opinion, advertising cannot enhance or ruin your writing skills.
ELJ: Detached narration seems a common trait in your books; this is not an easy skill either. What gives your narrative style this detachment?
AS: That is not intentional. That is probably the only way I can write.
ELJ: Where does your wry sense of humour come from? Is it genetic?
AS: No, I hail from a family of serious people, especially men. You should see their pictures. They look as if they are facing a firing squad, not a camera. I think my talent for looking cross is genetic. About my sense of humour, I don’t know where it comes from, and I don’t know why I’m seen as cynical.
ELJ: We know you don't meet readers at the usual places, like launches, book. Can you recall a particularly memorable incident where you met a reader in spite of all your efforts at being invisible?
AS: I run into readers at bookstores, malls and airports. People usually tell me they like my books. I don’t know if they are trying to be kind or they have actually read my books. Only the other day I was stopped by a man who said he loved my last movie. I don’t make movies, I don’t even watch them on a regular basis.
ELJ: Among the contemporary writers writing in English, who are your favourites? Are you choosy about the kind of authors you read?
AS: I like Jhumpa Lahiri, Manu Joseph, Adichie, Hanif Muhammed, HM Naqvi….
ELJ: Do you think you've ever created a character you hated? How did you deal with him/her?
AS: Many characters in The Blind Lady’s Descendants were modelled after people I grew up with. In my growing up years, I hated most of them and when I started writing about them I realized their arrogance and the ability to plot could be turned into stories.
ELJ: Supposing you had a chance, would you change anything in the novels you have written so far? If so, what would it be?
AS: I see every published book of mine as the skin I have shed. Even if I am given a chance to rewrite them, I don’t think I can bring myself to change anything. Not because they are perfect; I have simply lost interest in what is already chronicled.
ELJ: Would you tell us about your next book?
AS: My new book is about a boy who cherishes the idea of being a bird. The book is set in my hometown Varkala, and most of the story happens by the beach, which the town is famous for. By the way, as a boy the only thing I wanted to be was a bird, a fork-tailed one.