Interview number one from the specially curated ‘Interview Series’ that Open Road Review is doing with the ‘Kumaon Literary Festival’ as their ‘Online Literary Magazine Partners’. This interview was conducted over email.
Meghna Pant is an award-winning author, journalist and TEDx speaker. Her debut collection of short stories HAPPY BIRTHDAY (Random House, 2013) was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Award 2014, the world’s biggest short story prize. ONE AND A HALF WIFE (Westland, 2012) – her debut novel – won the national Muse India Young Writer Award and was shortlisted for several other awards, including the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. She is also winner of the 2016 FON South Asia Short Story Award. Her short stories have been published in over a dozen prestigious international and national literary magazines, including Avatar Review, Wasafari, Eclectica, The Indian Quarterly, and QLRS. Her new short story book THE TROUBLE WITH WOMEN (Juggernaut, 2016) is now available on the app.
Archita Mittra: As a bestselling writer as well as a financial journalist, tell us about your typical work day. What is your approach to writing?
Meghna Pant: My day begins and ends with writing. I’m either writing, thinking about what to write, reading, finding means to sustain my writer’s life, or experiencing new people, countries and encounters to keep my mind bloated with ideas and inspiration. I follow a strict regiment with deadlines and goals. I write 500-1000 words a day on average. I like to be organised in every aspect of my life, so my house has to be clean, finances have to be in order, health has to be heeded, family and loved ones have to be indulged, and work has to be done. I am, therefore, borderline manic my time, not permitting its wastage in the hands of fools or life’s many distractions (including social media).
I savour the form and discipline of literature to weave life’s chaos and senselessness into linearity.
AM: You were born in Shimla, raised in Mumbai and Delhi and lived in the cities of Zurich, Singapore, Dubai and New York. How have the places you lived impacted your work and life?
MP: To be able to sit down and write about the world, it’s crucial to first stand up and see what’s out there. My parents worked for the government, so I’ve seen most of India (20 states). My studies and jobs have taken me from Zurich to Singapore to New York and Dubai. I’ve travelled to 30 countries across 4 continents. As a result, I’ve lived in more than 25 homes! This exposure has given me a wonderful platform to immerse myself in worlds and cultures different from mine. It’s made me sensitive to what sets people apart and brings them together. I think travelling is the best way to absolve yourself from who you are. You realise the smallness of your fears and the largeness of your smiles.
Traveling is like falling in love. You cannot experience it without letting it change who you are.
AM:Can you tell us about your creative process that went into writing the ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘The Trouble With Women’ story collections? What are your future writing plans?
MP: Since I had no training as a writer (my degrees are in Economics and MBA Finance), I took several writing courses in New York. I think short stories made me a better writer. Brevity allows little indulgence for the writer to get carried away with the beauty of their style. It forces a distillation of plot, character, story and form. It demands the writer to hold a moment, keep it heightened, without risking the reader giving up on the story. A good short story can never flag and asks for taut writing with specificity, cleanliness, fleetness and an unflinching attention to detail. The effect of a short story has to be exquisite and offer the reader something as transformative as an awakening.
It paid off. Many of my short stories were published in prestigious international literary magazines, including Avatar Review, Wasafari, Eclectica, The Indian Quarterly and QLRS. Random House India published Happy Birthday in 2013 and the book was longlisted for the world’s biggest short story award: The Frank O’Connor International Prize 2014. Juggernaut published my second short story collection ‘The Trouble With Women’.
My fourth book and second full-length novel MEN WITHOUT GOD is a dark tale set in – and between – China and India. It is a powerful portrayal of longing, strife and family in the wake of war.
AM:Tell us about your experience working as a TV anchor.
MP: I’ve always been interested in the role that economics and capital markets have in the life of an individual. That’s what drew me to becoming an anchor for Times Now (business news division), since it allowed me to use my knowledge and communication skills, while providing an exciting and challenging work environment. After that I worked with NDTV Profit in Mumbai and then with Bloomberg UTV in New York.
I have to say that one of my best experiences was when I met President Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Manmohan Singh at the White House in Washington. Around that time I was also reporting from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). So, when the 2008 financial crisis began, and Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch collapsed, I was on the NYSE floor. It was an unbelievable experience to be at the epicentre of a global meltdown and to witness history being made.
AM:What are your biggest literary influences?
AP: Alice Munro, O. Henry, Jhumpa Lahiri, Munshi Premchand
Favourite Short Story Collections:
Alice Munro – Dear Life/ Too Much Happiness
Tania James – Aerogrammes
Junot Diaz – This Is How You Lose Her
Arunava Sinha – The Greatest Bengali Stories Ever Told
Manto – My Name is Radha
Rajesh Parameswaran – I Am An Executioner
Anjum Hasan – Difficult Pleasures
Favourite Short Stories:
Nathan Englander – The Twenty-Seventh Man
Nikolai Gogol – The Overcoat
J.D. Salinger – For Esme, with Love and Squalor
Henry – The Gift of the Magi
Guy de Maupassant – The Necklace
Michael Cunningham – White Angel