LITERARY DISCUSSION

Rana Preet Gill
The probing questions have been posed by Dr. Sunil Sharma, the dynamic Editor of SETU Bilingual (Pittsburgh).

Dr Rana Preet Gill is a Veterinary Officer with the government of Punjab, India. Her articles and short stories have been published in The Tribune, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The New Indian Express, Deccan Herald, The Hitavada, Daily Post, Women’s era, Spillwords press and SETU, Bilingual. She has compiled her published pieces into a book titled Finding Julia. She has also written two novels: Those College Years and The Misadventures of a Vet.

Subhash Chandra
Dr. Subhash Chandra, a former academic and distinguished scholar, has earned accolades for his short stories, one of which was declared a winning entry in a contest. Recently, he has been designated ‘Literary Brigadier,’ by STORY MIRROR, a large Online Portal with global reach. He has been awarded Nissim International Prize for Fiction, 2019 by ‘The Significant League, a Literary Forum, comprising writers and poets.

He has to his credit two collections of short stories, Not Just Another Story, and Beyond the Canopy of Icicles and about sixty short stories published in national and International journals, together with four books of literary criticism.

Chandra has presented papers at funded conferences in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Nepal and India. He worked on a post-doctoral project on a fellowship at the University of Toronto.

He is on the International Advisory Board of Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific (Australian National University, Canberra) and on the Editorial Board of induswomanwriting.com


Sunil Sharma, Editor, SETU: What is writing?

Rana Preet Gill: Writing for me is an expression to raise my voice, to write about things I would like to change, to write about things I feel good about. Writing for me is creating protagonists. I like imagining things, giving them shape and letting them flow.

Subhash Chandra:  Writing is both self-expression and communication. It becomes communication when put into the public domain through publishing mostly, or in any other way. Otherwise it remains expression of the self for the self, like the Diary writing.
Being a portmanteau term, writing subsumes all genres, such as, fiction, poetry, drama, biography, autography, memoir and even Diary writing.
But for the purpose of this discussion, we’d keep the focus on fiction,(SETU would follow up with discussions on the other genres) and ‘writing’ would refer to fiction writing.
Talking of fiction, it is representation of reality that has been processed in the inventive crucible of the writer. It is a mix of reality and creative imagination

SS, Editor: What does it mean to you?

RPG: I look upon writing as freedom from what people perceive me to be, what they want me to do or what I am supposed to be doing. Writing for me is passion to be my own being. Writing for me is a very important part of my life now. I try to write every day. I want it to stay and become a part of my daily routine.


SC: Writing is cathartic by nature and, therefore, it’s therapeutic for me. I am not able to often articulate my feelings of anger, hurt, or guilt because of social-personal constraints. Such bottled up emotions cause affliction, even suffering. Once I’ve made them a part of my writings, I am purged of them, and my peace of mind is restored. 

Writing is also self-discovery for me. In the process of writing, I find, sometimes to my dismay, I have nurtured biases and prejudices (for or against) which colour my perceptions and attitudes. We have been told by the masters of fiction like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, that it is the element of compassion that makes works great. Even the negative characters are treated compassionately. And that is possible only if the author is free from biases.

Besides, writing has also trained me in holistic thinking. I no longer think of life or people in binaries of white and black. I’ve realised there are shades of grey. People are a mix of contrarian traits, and qualities. Writing, therefore, has shifted my horizon. 

SS, Editor: How did you begin your career as a writer?

RPG: I started writing middles for The Tribune and the Hindustan Times. I got accepted and was published over and over again in these newspapers. Later on, I started writing for The Hindu, The New Indian Express, Deccan Herald, The Hitavada, Women’s era and the Daily post as well. I compiled my middles into a book titled ‘Finding Julia’. I have written two novels- Those College Years and The Misadventures of a Vet.


SC: When I was in class VII, one day the English teacher was absent and a science teacher walked in instead. He was a phenomenon and an inspiring role model. He loved literature and life and spoke fluently.
During his conversational lecture, he asked us if we liked reading stories.
All of us said yes. Then he asked whether any of us felt he should have been the writer of a story we read. No hand went up. I half raised mine and hastily withdrew. But he had noticed it, called me to the front, patted me and made me promise that I would write stories.
He went on to exhort the whole class to write about what happened during the day before we went to bed. That would help us to write stories and that is how great writers were born.
I betrayed my promise because of unavoidable factors. However, the seed of the dream was sown and it saw fruition in college, when I published my first short story in the college magazine.

SS, Editor: What constitutes fiction?

RPG: Fiction for me is imagination. I love to write, conceptualize, create people, situations which might or might not happen in real life. I like to play with words and most of the times I fall in love with characters I create. When I read books, I start loving the characters created by other authors. I think I relate more to the written word than people in real life.


SC: E.M. Forster outlined the constituents of fiction in his classic, Aspect of the Novel as story, characters, plot, fantasy, prophecy, pattern, and rhythm. For me the most important are story, plot and characters.  Though for Forster, story is an element lower down on the spectrum, but I resonate with Khushwant Singh who believed there cannot be a novel without a story and, therefore, it is the most important constituent in the fictional scheme of things. Also, as I said elsewhere, in the early stage of orality, the atavistic men listened to stories at night sitting around the campfire. If the story sagged, they either went off to sleep, or killed the story teller.  

SS, Editor: Do you think, fiction should aim at social reforms?

RPG: I think fiction can be a way to mend things in society. After all the fiction is nothing but contorting non-fiction in ways that is legible and acceptable. A book that makes me think and overpowers me in subtle ways is always welcome. Every book should leave an imprint and that happens when they have a strong voice which cannot come without challenging the existing norms.

SC: No. At least not overtly. That is a job best left to the social reformers. A writer imaginatively portrays society. It holds a mirror to society and in the process draws attention to the ills afflicting it.
But a writer should not be hemmed in by any type of commitment – ideological or otherwise -- or constraints. Or else intrusive didacticism in his writing would adversely affect the quality of his creative works.

SS, Editor: What is most appealing in fiction?

RPG:  To me the most appealing thing is when I find snitches of my life interspersed in my writing and in another people’s writing. Though fiction is supposed to be all created in the mind yet we often put ourselves on the pedestal and revolve the story around ourselves and spun it into magic. Its fiction and yet our lives. This intrigues me. If I find a little bit of me in a story I love reading it.


SC: It provides aesthetic pleasure and also offers insights into life. In our life, we meet only a limited number of people and undergo some experiences. Fiction enables us to live many lives. Each novel and short story is about the life of a protagonist. We tend to identify with him/her -- his feelings, emotions, and perceptions, thereby living his/her life. Fiction, therefore, enriches us and we learn how to avoid pitfalls and the resulting complications; it teaches us how to live life.  

SS, Editor:  Favourite fiction writers?

RPG: Rohinton Mistry, Khaled Hosseini, Nirupama Dutt

SC: The list is long and varied. But I would like to mention a few:  Munshi Prem Chand,  Phanishwar Nath Renu, Bhishm Sahni, Rajendra Yadav (Hindi), Somerset Maugham, Graham Green, Nathaniel Hawthorne, J.D. Salinger, Morley Callaghan (English), Saadat Hasan Manto, K.R. Meera, Chekhov, Gorky, Maupassant (translated into English from Urdu, Malayalam, Russian and French respectively); and among Indo-Anglian writers, Manohar Malgoankar, Kiran Nagarkar, Anita Desai and (take a deep breath!) Chetan Bhagat.

SS, Editor:: Your recurring themes and concerns?

RPG: I want to write against the dualities of life, the crime against women, the inequality in everyday life.

SC: I like to write about the marginalised -- the oppressed, discriminated against, and the exploited. For example, my first collection, Not Just Another Story contains “Catapult,” (about an exploited landless labourer), “That Many Splendoured Thing,” (Lesbian), “Amma” (Hijra),” I Have No Name” (Prostitute) and “Siblings,” (girl foeticide). My second collection, Beyond the Canopy of Icicles, includes “Mother and Daughter,” (Circus Joker) and “Good Morning Sir, Good Evening Sir,” published in MUSE, India is about women’s assertion and empowerment.

Writing about ghosts and animals also fascinates me. For example, “Believe It Or Not, “The Ringmaster,” and “The Wonders of a Smile,” appeared in SETU Bilingual (Pittsburgh). “Dusk” and “The Skinny Man,” were published in Confluence: South Asian Perspectives (London).  

I often wonder how it feels to be a beast of burden. “My Sister, Aaliya,”  (in Beyond the Canopy) is from the point of view of a cruelly treated horse who ferries passengers in a tonga every day.     

SS, Editor: How can the process of writing fiction be refined further? Are workshops necessary? Or is self-learning enough for improving the craft?

RPG: Writing requires time, patience and commitment. You are on your own when you write. I believe reading helps a lot. Every good writer ought to be a good reader. I do not think writing workshops make a difference. Writing is hard work and pushing yourself to think beyond the boundaries

SC: Yes, workshops play an important role. One gets to learn the finer points of writing from the peers and those who are superior to us in knowledge of the craft and have more experience. But having said that, I think, plenty of mindful reading and writing are the key to becoming a good writer.  

SS, Editor: Can IWE (Indian writing in English) compete with the best of the West?

RPG: Yes, we can compete with the West. We are doing very good. I love reading Indian authors.

SC: IWE is successfully competing with the best of the West. Several books have gone on to win prestigious awards including the Man Booker and have been globally appreciated. Arundhiti Roy’s The God of Small Thing, Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss and Arvind Adiga’s The White Tiger won Man Booker Prize. Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake was turned into a successful film an English film

SS, Editor: How can the books be sold and writers recognised by the mass media dominated by few well-connected names only?

RPG: Marketing your work is important. Bad books marketed well, sell sometimes and good books are lost because of poor marketing. This is how publishing industry works. I market my books as much as I can. Most of the big authors are very good at marketing besides being good writers. 

SC: Writers should ensure visibility of their books on Social Media like Facebook, and Instagram and organise discussions about their works, inviting reviewers from newspapers, magazines and academia. Acclaimed literary magazines should showcase the books and the Editors, who are held in high esteem, give their views on them.     

2 comments :

  1. I read the Interview with much interest. The questions asked are pertinent and bring out some critical responses. Subhash’s answers reveal the classical mind if his while Dr. Gill emerges as an “activist”.
    Sunil Sharma’s probe into the visibility of the Indian Writers in English as well as the marketability of their writing has elicited From Subhash a response that reveals the growing significance of social media for writers, while Gill’s response strikes at the lopsided effect of the publisher’s crassness.
    Subhash and Gill both seem to believe in the salitary effect of training for a writer, though Subhash ultimately holds up the worth of learning from extensive reading and intensive writing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. 'Writing is cathartic by nature and, therefore, it’s therapeutic for me' so says Dr Subhas Chandra.
    Writing is an expression of freedom for Dr Rana Preet Gill.
    While one is writing for the marginalised, the other for exposing the duality of life.
    love the interview. with loved and warm words they bare their hearts' warmth. and I congratualte the erudite editor for such a brilliant questionnaire.

    ReplyDelete

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