‘The joy of being drawn into a story is unparalleled’

Dr Nitasha Kaul, an author, academic, poet, traveler, photographer, is currently the Visiting Fellow at Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD), University of Westminster, UK. Author of Imagining Economics Otherwise: Encounters with Identity/Difference (Routledge, 2008), her novel Residue is the only debut novel shortlisted for 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize. In a freewheeling chat with Syed Zafar Mehdi, she talks about writing, publishers and Indian writing in English (IWE).


Q1. When did the idea of writing strike you first? Was it planned or it just happened?
As a child, reading stories, I would wonder what happened to the characters after the book ended. So, imagining their unwritten lives became a habit. I was, at one time in my teens, a member simultaneously of 5 libraries in Delhi, so there were some overdue fines for sure.  Reading, writing and being read was the best way I knew to make sense of the world even as a very young kid. The joy of being drawn into a story, of creating one’s own stories, is unparalleled.

Q2. How has your experience with publishers been?
They’re a curious and changing lot. Some more committed and sincere than others. In my experience, non-fiction publishers tend to be more focused. Fiction publishers, on the other hand, sometimes have a larger-than-life idea of ‘what the market wants’ which is not always borne out by reality.

Q3. What’s your take on Indian writing in English, especially in the context of budding writers and authors?
It is a diverse and challenging arena. I hope the newer authors will continue to bridge the vastly different worlds of the Indian surroundings and the English fiction reader. Indian Writing in English (IWE) has a privileged status in terms of remuneration and readership, and has sometimes courted controversy deservedly by presenting a picture of other places and other people (read Indian for other) that caters to the real or perceived taste of western readers. This may be the cliched and unending focus on spices, Raj, arranged marriages, customs and traditions, or on dire squalid poverty. This focus isn’t problematic if it is meant to portray or satirise the conditions of life elsewhere, but, when this focus alone becomes the sole identification label attached to such writing, then it becomes an issue
Q3. How difficult it is for budding authors in India to get published?
It seems that an online presence (through blogging for example) and burgeoning litfest-type events provide greater opportunities now.

Q4. Before the launch of your first book, did you go online to attract attention of prospective publishers or you got it easy?
My first book was a scholarly one, and I was approached by the publishers themselves who had heard me speak about my work. Getting a novel out there is an entirely different story.

Q5. What are the important traits that every writer should possess?
A curiously insane love of words, a lively imagination, a working memory, a facility for otherness, a capacity to work hard, and a store of patience.



About Zafar Mehdi
Maverick journalist, irreverent rebel, travel freak, cricket junkie, reluctant fundamentalist, student of life, dreamer, believer.

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