Monday, September 1, 2008

An online interview with a writer

When I was writing the post on Sepia Leaves, a few questions surfaced that I quickly mailed to Amandeep. Here are his answers.

Sepia Leaves is a recently published novel written by Amandeep Sandhu. It portrays in first person, the trauma of a seven year old because of a dysfunctional family.

1. It says on your cover, Sepia leaves seeks reconciliation between love and guilt and explores whether storytelling itself can be an act of resolving the past and hoping about the future. Could you explain the latter part of the sentence?

What does one do when one realizes that one's life is screwed up?
One of the choices one has, when one's back is to the wall, is to speak up. When one speaks one can either complain about one's life or try to own one's story, try that it makes sense to others. When one tries to do that one's attention is diverted from the tragedy of the events to the joy of reconstructing them, communicating them, and finding meanings in them which might have otherwise escaped those who are involved in them.
Basically, gain perspective. That is why I think the telling of a story, and it is always a retelling, can provide one with tools to understand one's past.

2. You said to me on the phone that you were thinking of calling the book ,"Not to be Lose Shunted." Could you comment on the governments attitude where they decide that parents are 'unfit' to care for their children, and then forcing the family to live apart, institutionalizing the children.

No one asks a child if he or she wants to come into the world. Most children are born because either their parents want a child or grandparents want a toy to pass time, and we address the birth with terms like 'carrying on a legacy'. I think parents owe it to the child to nourish the child well, and bring him or her up as a citizen of the world.
Sometimes that does not happen so the state intervenes. It would be good if the state were human and if the state were to be able to do its primary job well. Its job being to run the state. But that is not the case. Most states are run poorly and have institutions, devoid of any human touch, to contain children who come from broken, irreparable homes. I think that is absolutely wrong, even horrific.
How can a faceless, inhuman, institution take care of a fragile, new, life? Ideally families should take care, else, if foster bodies exist then they should be adequately humanized and the child should be able to form a sense of trust while growing up.
For a child, in my opinion, an inhuman state or a faceless institution is much worse than a broken family.

3. Share a few reactions on the book?

Touch wood, every one who has read the book has liked it. I get at least one mail or message or phone call a day from some one in some corner of the world who tells me the book has made sense to him or her. The mails are from people I know and now are beginning to be from people I do not know but are now friends, after they have read the book.
The list of reactions is long but most of the readers have either been care givers to mentally ill patients or have found echoes of their struggle in Baba and Mando's lives. The unanimous opinion is that they are happy this kind of a book, they say that such a story is often experienced but not written, has been written and written well.
It is very touching. I am glad people have accepted my version of my story and mostly read it in single sittings (whatever that means).

4. How long did it take to write the novel? What inspired you to start writing your own story? Any writers kinks you cultivated? (you don't have to answer this one )

I started writing when my parents decided, after having kept me away from home most of my life, to come and stay with me in Bangalore. It was the year 2000. I realised that until I dropped my childhood baggage I would not be able to take care of them. I knew they were coming to be with me before they die. I wrote the book because I wanted to lay down my baggage and learn how to handle it. I had a draft ready by 2003 and then my father died. It was at his death that I got the structure of the book. I completed it in May 2005. It took a couple of years to come out in print.
Writer kinks?
- My birth date is Feb 4 so I try to make the dates on my drafts add up to 4 or to 2 or to 8. Even if I am working on the 15th of a month I name my draft 17.
- Until recently I could do my real writing only when I sat on my table in my home, facing a wall and from where I could look out of a window or door. I have to find such a location in my new home.

5. Tell us a little about your next effort.

I am completing the draft of a book called Roll of Honour. It is set in the 1980's in a military school in Punjab where Appu (again) is being readied to join the Army. That is when Operation Blue Star takes place and Appu wonders how can he join an Army which broke his temple. The book raises questions of identity and deals with perceptions, highlighting the dilemma: is Appu a Sikh or an Indian?

6. Any advice to writers? or, why is it important to publish, and not just write?

No advice. Who am I to tell any one anything?
But I can lay out my reasons to try and publish and not write and lock my drafts in the desk: I put Sepia Leaves out because I realised that with it I had reached a point where I could not improve it. I needed friends, I needed people more intelligent and sensitive than me to tell me how I could improve as a writer.
I think one ultimately always writes for oneself but if one can becomes one's own best critic one improves as a writer. To become one's own critic one needs to learn from others, from readers, one needs to be able to imagine a draft looking like a complete book. Readers, friends, all over the world can help me in my journeys but I wanted to give them something to assess me. Hence, I believe publishing is important. Also, this book is a tribute to my father and mother, I think I owe it to them to keep their memory alive, now that they have gone away.
After the book has been published, I know that Sepia Leaves could have been made even better. The idea is not to deliver a perfect work of art but to understand what it means to engage with the world.

7. Your favorite authors are..

I like many pieces by many writers but if I have to select a few then they are:

Ryszard Kapuscinski
Nikos Kazantzakis
John Steinbeck
Kenzaburo Oe
Amitav Ghosh


Banno said...

Coincidentally, I just saw a film on DVD, 'Running with Scissors'. It tells a similar story. And is quite bizarre. It's also based on the personal memoirs of a young man. See it if you can get it.


the best gift each a human being can have is the breathe of life. now life is so a precious oppurtunity each a moment of it has to be turned into bliss of being alive. and the bliss of being alive becomes available only and only with the capacity of giving. it can be giving love, giving help, giving affection. ultimately the innocence of the child with which it gives love and keeps on giving love makes the mother melt. and children have to become fatherly figure to their parents in the latter part of the life than only the heart is at peace.