[Issue 9 / May 2014]
LOVE, POETRY & SHORTLISTING FOR A LITERARY PRIZE: AN INTERVIEW WITH MINAKSHI THAKUR.
By Kulpreet Yadav
Lovers like you and I was published by HarperCollins Publishers India in November 13. In its unpublished form, the manuscript was shortlisted for The Tibor Jones South Asia Prize 2013. Minakshi works as the senior commissioning editor with HarperCollins Publishers, India. This short interview was conducted over e mail.
Kulpreet Yadav: Is ‘Lovers like you and I’ a regular love story an average reader can relate to?
Minakshi Thakur: It’s a novel meant for everyone who’s ever sought love; we all seek love at some point or all points in our lives. There’s a letter in it for each person who picks up a copy. It’s set in a time that’s just recently passed us by, so it also aims to evoke nostalgia for a time when people communicated more meaningfully. It celebrates a certain way of life and loving. No, it’s not a regular story in terms of structure and prose, but it’s not a complex novel by any standard; it’s meant for everybody who wants to read something poetic and romantic.
KY: There is a lot of Hindi and Urdu poetry in the book. Do you think Indian readers can connect better with their deeper emotions in local languages, even if they may not have formally studied them?
MT: We are all bilingual, if not multilingual, people. That sensibility is something no one can take away from us. Even if we don’t read or write so much in Hindi or Urdu or Bengali etc these days, we have music and television and family or social conversations happening in our languages; it’s something which is unwittingly one with us. Our languages are naturally high on the emotion quotient; that’s what their texture is like. And it’s true they are capable of forging a more direct and instant connect with people at least upto my generation.
KY: How much do you think the Tibor Jones literary agency’s short-listing you for the prize validate your own belief that you could write? Did it change the way your publishers began to view your creativity?
MT: I submitted my manuscript to the prize for a lark. I wasn’t expecting anything. But the shortlisting did reinforce my belief in the work and I am thankful for that. As to whether or not it changed the way my publisher views my writing, you need to ask Karthika that question. I can only say that since I have worked with her for many years, I had easy access to feedback as I went from the first draft of the novel to the second.
KY: Among the Indian writers who have not studied outside India, and who are not older than 50, who are your favorites?
MT: Writing in English you mean? Also who cares who’s 50 and who’s not, as long as they write well. I enjoy Altaf Tyrewala’s books, Anuja Chauhan, Anita Nair, Pankaj Mishra, Anosh Irani, Annie Zaidi… Anees Salim, V Sanjay Kumar, Janice Pariat…
I read a lot of Hindi. Geetanjali Shree, Manisha Kulshreshtha, Kunal Singh, Ajay Navaria,
Pratyaksha…. These people are so good.
KY: Why does literary fiction rarely reach the bestsellers chart in India?
MT: We need to stop calling them literary fiction for them to hit the charts. It’s simply good fiction. Maybe as publishers we need to change tacks; don’t you think? Perhaps, the labeling is causing the damage. On second thoughts, reading as a culture is under threat in our country. Even in the languages, except Malayalam, not many people are reading or buying books. Earlier our reading list shaped us, made us who we are; things have changed a bit now; our twitter wars dictate who we are and what we become. In English, readership is growing we believe, but not at the pace that we would like it to. We need to incentivize reading, make it sexy.
KY:Can you describe your book in 5 words?
MT: A long poem for lovers.
KY: Jeeban Vs. Salil, who is the ideal lover?
MT: Neither. Jeeban and Salil are like the two halves of a day; if you combine the two, you have a whole package. But people are not packages. ‘Ideal’ is just something we keeping chasing after. It’s just a way of killing time, else time will kill us.
KY: The best books you have read in the last 2 years. Books that have moved you, transformed you, made you pause and reflect at the fundamentals you hold dear.
MT: The Sense of An Ending blew me away with its prose style, layered plot and 'unexpected ending'. Zoo Time was supremely witty, dark, mad and ominous; I was bowled over by Howard Jacobson’s brilliance. Yoko Ogawa’s The Professor and the Housekeeper moved me, touched something deep inside me. I am very biased towards Japanese writers anyway. Atiq Rahimi’s Earth and Ashes. Set in the Afghan mountains, this incredibly spare fable about war and family during the Russian occupation is a very, very powerful story that transforms the way you look at anger, enmity, need and love. Geetanjali Shree’s Hindi novel Khali Jagah, about a bomb blast in a university café. It’s one of the strongest books to be written in India in the last ten years. I have published an English translation of the novel at HarperCollins. Catalan writer Merce Rodoreda’s The Time of Doves(La placa del Diamant). It’s a novel of rare beauty. Saramago’s The Double. But then Saramago’s always beyond compare! Italian writer Francesca Marciano's Rules of the Wild.