WHY WRITE SHORT STORIES BEFORE A NOVEL, ROLE OF LITERARY MAGAZINES IN SHAPING WRITING CAREERS & ATTITUDE TOWARDS SEX EDUCATION
By Kulpreet Yadav
Mohit Parikh is author of critically acclaimed novel Manan (HarperCollins). He received a Toto Award for Creative Writing in English 2015. He suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Daydreaming, misplaced idealism and unquestionable faith in humanity. God save him.
This interview was conducted over e mail.
Kulpreet Yadav: You had been published by Open Road Review and various other literary magazines before your novel, Manan, arrived in the bookstores. Would you like to comment on the advantages, if any, you experienced by writing shorter pieces of fiction first, before you expanded your creative effort to a full-length book? Or since these have been published far too close, you were juggling with both the forms at the same time?
Mohit Parikh: While writing Manan’s first draft I faced a serious, and not an entirely unexpected, language handicap. English wasn’t my first language growing up and even in college it was, as a friend puts it, my thinking language—the language in which I could theorize how GPRS works (I studied electronics engineering) or analyze an abstract essay topic for GRE or expound on a case study to secure marks in a viva exam. However to express a character’s sentiments just as I meant to, that didn’t come naturally to me. So I wrote short pieces for literary magazines as an exercise, to make myself comfortable with words, and to challenge myself to qualify. It was a real confidence booster. I got to peep into the minds of editors, I got exposed to English speaking world literature and, as a result, I became a better reader. With more attention span and patience. The exercise helped me form writing habits—deadlines are the best way to get any writing done and rejections teach you to revise—and also made me know the writer in me better.
Most literary magazines, in my experience, focus not so much on what writers are saying but how they are saying—how well. For young writers, therefore, these are great platforms to back their whimsical ideas and try things out. The only drawback, as far as online literary magazines are concerned, is that you don’t get pushed to master the skills of story-telling.
My piece for Open Road Review, for instance, was a reaction to reading Lolita that I remember writing in one sitting (the reaction, not the book obviously). I just wanted to vent. Of course, I must have revised the piece ten times before I even considered submitting it to Shanti Perez.
KY: Whom do you write for? Is there certain section of people you see as your audience. Maybe those who attained puberty in the late 90s, like the protagonist in Manan, or, do you think a novel can achieve a broader readership?
MP: I tried to write Manan for everyone. For those who grew up in the 90s India, my friends who are engineers and chartered accountants and MBA professionals, smart people but not necessarily avid fiction readers. I wrote Manan keeping voracious readers in mind, those who read War and Peace and Pride and Prejudice when they were all of twelve. I also tried to not give the editors and reviewers any reason to reject or dislike the book. I did not have a young-adult audience in mind at the time of writing, but it has turned out to be a book for them … And I wrote for myself.
I guess I am trying to say that I believe a novel can achieve a broad readership, especially if it is aware of what it is.
I saw The Matrix in class X on a friend’s newly bought personal computer and found it to be one of the coolest, most imaginative movies I had ever watched. When I saw it again in my first year in college, I appreciated its fidelity to the complex science and engineering concepts. A year later, when I came across Simulacra and Simulation, I revisited the movie multiple times and became obsessed with its philosophical assertions. At some point, I was shocked to discover the plethora of religious allusions that had escaped me until then. And last year, when I tried and failed terribly at filming an experimental docu-drama of my own, I watched it again and marveled at the feat the Wachowski siblings were able to pull off. To be able to finish a project of that scale so successfully while pushing the boundaries!
So that’s the kind of books I want to write. On the face of it approachable, simple, enjoyable, but with many hidden layers so that the more one looks the more one finds. I am not sure if I have succeeded in that regard with Manan, but that’s what I have attempted.
KY: Indian readers don’t take literary fiction seriously. Popular fiction of a certain shade is what they prefer, if you know what I mean. Will you ever allow your writing to mutate according to the reader’s tastes? Or, would you prefer the readers to mutate to accept and enjoy what you write? I might know your answer—or I may not—but let’s have your comments.
MP: I don’t know. My mission statement is to write with a lot of heart, and courage, and care. I would like to be responsible for what I am sharing with the world. Otherwise, I’d rather be quiet. I’d rather be dead. The writing self ought to be a much better self than the one that transacts in the daily world. Yann Martel once said that the world does not need your book, you have to push it through. So—if he is correct—question is why push it through. Why write a book at all?
I am not a big fan of action. Only when I am sure an action is an improvement over non-action that I like to commit to it. (My mom thinks that’s just a pretext to be lazy.)
I am guilt-ridden about some of the literary stuff I have written—guilt-ridden because I can’t say I own them completely, even as they are fine pieces to read. Manan, in fact, is the only writing I feel proud about. Everything else can be burnt, buried.
I don’t know if I have answered the question. But yeah, that is it really. Heart, and courage, and care.
KY: No sex education & a lot of sex on internet to watch for the young adults in India. Outside the world of novels and journalistic articles, what can seriously be done to tackle this?
MP: Young-adults are probably doing fine. They are much smarter, I think, than we were at that age. What needs tackling is our own attitude towards sex. It is us—the writers of novels and journalistic articles, the policy makers, the teachers, the parents—who need to introspect before we assume any kind of leadership.
KY: What are you writing now?
MP: Ummm… actually I haven’t written anything since Manan… since September 2013 when I finished it. Working on getting my head straight.
But lots of notes for the next two books. I am ready to write them as soon as I am ready to write them.
KY: Who are your favourite Indian writers under 30, published or unpublished?
MP: Tanuj Solanki is a friend, an editor and a fellow writer who made me literary conscious. He is also the only other reader of my work, and until recently I was one of the only readers of his. I immensely enjoy reading his short fiction. His first book is going to come out early next year and I am thrilled about it. Jigar Brahmabhatt is another young writer whose short stories are an anti-dote to the anxieties of our fast paced world, though he may not be under 30. Mihir Vatsa is full of energy and promise and I know he will go far. The little I have read of Rohan Chettri and Avinab Datta has impressed me greatly.
As such, I am not in touch with young writers or established writers… not active in the writing community. I am guilty of being reclusive.