Interviews

3 Qs with our contributors about their stories in Kaani 

1- What inspired this story about the circus?

MC: I started writing my collection of interlocking stories about circus performers (which will be published as a full-length collection, Circus Folk, from Hoot ‘n’ Waddle this fall) with a tongue-in-cheek story about teenagers enrolling in clown college. For the stories that followed, my general impulse was to seek out opportunities to find or create intersections between humor, danger, magic, and how all of these factors might play out in another otherwise realist world. “Fallen,” specifically, came to me when watching a trapeze performance at the Circus, Circus casino in Las Vegas, and observing the artist performed without a net. The performer seemed professional, and the act was conservative enough that there probably wasn’t a significant risk at hand, but I nonetheless got to thinking about what might be if she were to fall, and the what might be if that were actually part of the act.

2- Fallen made me think of fairy tales, witches and magic. How did you decide that Ulana would fall? Why not any other trick?

MC: Out of the Circus Folk collection, this story definitely veers most overtly into real magic being the only explanation. The idea of a trapeze artist falling, and it being part of the act came to me during the aforementioned trapeze act I saw at the casino, and I followed the logic that falling captures a key part of the intrigue of such an act. Yes, a trapeze artist’s skill and agility can be something to marvel at, but the risk of real danger is also compelling and felt like rich material to mine for a story.

3- It is a love story. Why did you choose a third person narration? Did you consider writing it from Harold’s pov?

MC: The third person narrator was partly a function of staying consistent with the mostly third-person narration established in the Circus Folk collection, but using Harold as an anchor to filter much of the story, through, within the third person was a key step to unlocking the story. It’s a love story, but also a story about a charlatan coming upon true magic–knowing enough to recognize that what he’s seeing is not sleight of hand and also quickly becoming enamored with it representing a skill set and world view he has not previously accessed.


1- Do you think stories about writers (in the making) intrigue readers who are non-writers also?

MP: I have written a few stories about writers-in-making because I was a writer-in-making (not sure if I am a writer anymore), my friends were writers-in-making and it seemed fun to write about that small community of people. Do I think stories about writers intrigue readers? I have no clue.

2- The protagonist doesn’t like to drive here and we see that he is forced to and the end is not pretty. How did this premise come to you?

MP: Sometimes we do things we don’t want to do because we aren’t assertive enough, because we can’t say no to people. It’s a trigger for a potential mess. I hate driving cars (or operating any machine for that matter) and even took pride in the fact. But social pressure got better of me. As a 27 years old man I was expected to know driving – just in case there are emergencies at home (rolling my eyes now). I registered for driving lessons. Took the car out with my guide a few times. One day, against my will, my family asked me to drive them in the marketplace. What’s shown in the story is pretty much what had happened. My immediate response to the car accident was rational and action-oriented. The shock however was registered subconsciously and kept making its appearance months after the incident (for a while I couldn’t bring myself to sit on the front seat of a car). It had to come out in writing in some form.

3- Did ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle motivate you just enough for the story or did it do more?

MP: I read ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle for the first time in 2007, much before I started writing short stories. I keep going to the book as I find its words powerful and otherworldly almost. But, no matter how much ‘live in the moment’ teachings you read or talks you listen to or spiritual retreats you attend, life will throw challenges and if your understanding is superficial you will find yourself wanting. That was something I wanted to show through the story.


1-      What inspired the character ‘Hari’? 

AP: Hari represents a trait everyone knows: the very human tendency to hoard objects. But apart from this trait, we know very little about him. There is ambiguity about his personality, something that is worked into the story in the way other characters try to understand why he does what he does. This trait of his, the need to hoard wedding invitations, is the focus of the story. This also means that Hari could be anyone.

2-      The tone of your story is satirical. Was it an experiment?  

AP: The latter half of the story certainly veers into satirical territory. The reaction of people described earlier on would probably not be too far from real life if such a story ever captures the public’s attention. But the wider reaction of the media, and the way it rounds in on itself in the end, has a touch of the absurd that I wanted to get across. 

3-      Do you think flash fiction is most suitable for the attention span of young readers?

AP: I think readers in today’s world, both young and old, have their attention diverted almost constantly. Fiction does have a challenging path ahead to retain their attention. Flash fiction could help here by acting as a gateway for readers to develop their interest in fiction. While a piece of flash fiction can be just as textured and meaningful as a full-length novel, the shorter word count does mean less investment of time from a reader. 


 

1- The story introduces us to the protagonist who is trying to write. Why did you choose to make her a writer? As a writer yourself do you enjoy reading/writing about characters who are writers?

VT: I write about a writer, a beginning writer, because that consciousness is close to my own. I do enjoy reading about the struggle to get words on paper, as I myself am someone who cannot write effortlessly.

2- What inspired the character of the old man in the story? He drives the story with his stubbornness at first and then his reluctant surrender.

VT: The old man is inspired by my father’s struggles with declining health.

3- Is the protagonist a single mother who does everything? Look after her kids, her parents, writes etc.

VT: No, the protagonist is not a single mother. She is a wife and mother, office-goer and a daughter who looks after her ageing father as well. This is not an anomalous thing anymore. I see women all around me, taking on more responsibilities both in and out of the house and struggling to find time for things that are truly meaningful to them, like writing.


1- Is Ulysses a favourite? Curious to know why it is central in the story.

PN: Ulysses is not really a favourite; but it is surely one of the best books I’ve read. In fact, it is an overwhelming book, specially if you’re a writer yourself. It is also a tedious read unless you’re prepared to invest yourself in it fully. I remember picking it up and stowing it away, frustrated, at different times over four years until I finally found myself in a frame of mind to sit and read it from start to end. There are many things I’ve learnt during this reading experience -and not many books offer you this -you get to experience places and emotions from a character’s perspective, but with Ulysses each reader will have a unique reading experience of his/her own. This, of course, is not the reason it found it’s way into my story. As K in my story says, Ulysses is about dysfunctional relationships -between father and son, father and daughters, husband and wife, between friends… and at it’s core, my story too is about one such relationship gone bad. In some ways, the book helps K come to terms with the fact that no relationship is perfect and that it’s all right if they aren’t.

2- The major theme in the story is infidelity. How did you think of symbolising it with the shuttle cock?

PN: I remember throwing my kids’ battered shuttle cock into the bin, then taking it out on a whim and studying it carefully before throwing it back again. This set into motion a series of thoughts about the things we throw away and those that we preserve. Like how we at times throw away important things and preserve inconsequential stuff -like the yellow blossom in my story. The battered shuttle cock also made me think of how, like kids wanting to play with it until it’s down to its last feather, we want to cling onto relationships that are already dead -specially marriages. I guess that was when I started to think of the shuttle cock as a metaphor for fidelity. I had already written Scene 1 in my story by then, so I rewrote it with this new perspective and the rest of the story kind of fell in place. Much later, when I shared the story with a friend, he responded saying the shuttle cock and the name Lingam seemed strong phallic symbols. I must confess that while I chose the name Lingam on purpose, using the shuttle cock as a phallic symbol was not a conscious decision. It does work well for the story though…what do you think?

3- I found Mr. Lingam quite amusing. How did he come about?

PN: Again, Mr. Lingam was not part of my first few drafts. On reading and re-reading the story, I felt that there was only so much I could convey with K’s thoughts. Some emotions need dialogue to be conveyed better and I guess dialogue also helps break the monotony of a narrative such as the one in my story. So I started to think about who K could have a dialogue with. I was sure that I didn’t want her crying on someone’s shoulder or rationalizing her life, let alone philosophizing, so I was quite confused until one day, I came up with the name Lingam. I don’t know exactly why and how the name occurred to me, but I knew at once that this would be my guy in the story. And it was the name that determined the character for me -his age, appearance, demeanour…everything. I drew upon all my encounters with ‘creepy’ guys, packaged them as Mr. Lingam and used him as K’s punching bag. But writing that bit in the story, I surprisingly felt sad for him. After all, there is something so pathetic about these people -they must be leading frustrating lives themselves and might have no clue how to extricate themselves.


1- The story is about the dismantling of a couple’s relationship. How did the idea come about?

PN- I actually don’t remember how the idea came about. But I have always been fascinated by how a lot of individualistic ad strong-minded women have given up their promising careers in India to settle down into a different line of work or becoming a housewife post marriages to NRI men. That coupled with the exploration of how intimacy and love can build in an extremely poignant manner in a foreign land, probably led to me writing this story. Many a times, the ‘twists’ are not pre-decided and then just pop up along the route. 

2- Did you consider writing the story in first person? Was third person the most natural choice?

PN- Yes, it was indeed a natural choice. This was one of those stories that I could only see in third person, because I wanted the reader to be at a distance from the protagonist. And the mental state of mind the protagonist was in, I did not really see her ‘narrating’ the story.

3- I like how you showed the way a person’s past can haunt a person’s present. Any comments? 

PN- I think this is where the protagonist’s strong-mindedness really resurfaced. The secret overshadows everything beautiful that is very much a part of her present.  I think not acknowledging one’s past and letting it remain a secret is something that only a blessed few can do. The husband tells his wife about the secret because clearly despite moving on in his life, it has continued to trouble him. And he tells it only when he feels ‘safe’ telling it to the wife because he thinks she will understand, again thinking that their present together is more powerful than this secret of the past. As it turns out, he was wrong.


1- Was the vengeful end to the story intended or did it come about as you wrote it and why such an end?

RL- The end is vengeful indeed and was intended from the beginning The story is an anti-wedding story. Women in white wedding dresses are seen as innocent and helpless, (the long white outfit making it impossible to run away easily, and white being the colour of purity and virginity), and so I wanted to subvert that particular image quite savagely…. I’m not even sure that men like that wedding dress thing, do they? Anyhow, somehow society likes it, and I think it just shows you want this society, that I come from, thinks of women.

2- How did you decide to feature a character who suffered from ‘Leukophobia’?

RL- Making the male character have leukophobia was a way of setting up a kind of extreme version of the average burdensome man who isn’t able to exist alone or do much for himself, but who needs a ‘wife’ to look after him. And of course, his wife couldn’t have worn white on their wedding day because he wouldn’t have allowed it.  … but she gets to wear such a dress in the end.

3- What did you expect the readers to take away from the story?

RL- I’ve never felt it’s my place as a writer to have any particular expectations of the reader. The readers must be free to bring to my stories whatever thoughts or ideas they like.


1- Can you tell us how the idea for the story came about?

PV- At that time, I was reading a lot of absurd/humorous short fiction – Barthelme, Saunders, Lipsyte etc. – and I kept getting all these weird ideas for writing something in that vein. Never landed on anything I could write a paragraph upon. Then one morning, woke up and said to myself: “Ah, there needs to be a baby – a crazy baby in this.” (although I don’t really say ‘Ah’ but that’s how its filed in my memory now). Wrote the first draft out in the next hour or so. 

2- Did you worry that readers might perceive the parents to be ‘irresponsible’?

PV- No, not at all. I was sure they would pick on the tongue-in-cheek nature of the piece. Frankly, now that I am a parent, I find it even more palatable! 

3- Is ‘The Baby’ inspired by a real life baby that you know?

PV- No and thank God for that! My wife was pregnant at that time I wrote this story and I was a little afraid she might find it in poor taste or something. But, on the contrary and to my infinite relief, she was in absolute splits on reading it. I guess I married right!


 

1– Was using second person a natural choice? 

NG- Yes, it came naturally to me in writing this story.

2- Did you hope readers would empathise with the character more because of the second person usage?  
NG- I didn’t think about readers while writing it, not consciously. It wasn’t really a well thought out strategy. I just went with the flow. The male character is the strongest among the three, if you notice. And he and his motives drove the rest of the characters, therefore, the story.   
3– The story is about a love triangle. A complicated relationship, betrayal and more. What inspired it? 
NG- An incident in my life triggered it.

1- What inspired you to write the story?

JS- I was doing research for a novel set in the North East of England when I came across a literary competition that invited submissions marking the 100th anniversary since the first British women got the vote.

I decided to focus on Churchill’s visit to Newcastle in 1909, when he was President of the Board of Trade. I chose my central character then worked out a way for her to engage with the real-life events that were unfolding at the time. The events she witnesses in the story did actually occur. Even the court case referred to, which illustrates women’s inferior legal status, is drawn from a press report of the time.

The story got nowhere in the competition, but none of the finalists tackled the subject of women’s suffrage at all, so that was a bit mystifying. Then ‘Kaani’ accepted the story. An abridged version has since appeared in an online archive about women’s suffrage hosted by the University of East Anglia and Norfolk Library Service.

2- The Ending?

JS- The suffragettes committed various acts of vandalism, often on property that men had designated for their personal use. By vandalising a cricket pitch, you are tackling a bastion of male power, and invading men’s personal space. It’s the equivalent of shitting on a church altar. It’s both aggressive and transgressive.

I didn’t invent either the slogan or the act of sabotage. This act was perpetrated in my home town, and elsewhere too.

The slogan is witty, subversive and menacing. It’s about seizing power when you’re being denied it. By referring to the male of the species as ‘boys’, the women position themselves as the more mature half of the species in the stand-off between the sexes, thus shifting the balance of power in their favour. Then, the reference to ‘play ’ is a reminder that while men had the luxury of ‘leisure time’, many women did not. It’s also the equivalent of the present-day two-finger salute. It says, ‘Don’t mess with us. If you’re going to keep all the toys for yourselves, we’re going to keep spoiling your game.’.

I was less interested in implanting the slogan in women’s minds than in insinuating it into men’s. But  you’re right. By the end of the story, Enid has undergone a transformation. She’s become a fully-fledged suffragette. So the message for women is: if you want to change things, you have to engage.

3- Perspective on India…

JS- What Enid writes about Chandernagore is culled directly from a newspaper article of the time. Most ordinary Britons had no idea what was going on in Empire in their name. That’s the point I’m making. The comparison between the Hooghly and the Tyne rivers is a ludicrous one, but that’s the sort of feeble thing that was written in an age where there was little access to first-hand information.