BY SUKANT DEEPAK
While author Jerry Pintos book “Murder in Mahim” has been acquired by Viacom for a film adaptation, he makes it clear that not only does he know anything else, he doesnt really want to know more. “I am happy that the book will move to another medium, but also a little apprehensive about what shape it will take considering I have heard so many horror stories about writers finding their work changed. But I try to be optimistic.”
Even as his latest work, “Tickle Me, Don’t Tickle Me: And Other Poems for Magnificent, Turbo-Loaded, Triple-Charged Children” published by Speaking Tiger recently hit the shelves, this Sahitya Akademi and Windam-Campbell Literature Prize award winner tells IANS about his next book, writing process and being nervous. Excerpts from a conversation.
Do you feel there is enough Indian children’s literature available?
I think there are a lot of books for children, but not sure whether children get at them. Most children in India don’t have access to libraries because the library movement never took off in India. I always say that Shivaji Park, right near my home in Mumbai, didn’t make me a cricketer but it was there and I could always go and play if I wanted to. In the same way, a library in your village won’t make every child a reader but at least the child who wants to read will be able to find books.
Then comes the question of bookshops. There aren’t too many bookshops in the smaller towns and those we have seem to deal only with textbooks and a few bestsellers. The children’s section is filled with retellings of the epics and the Jataka and the Panchatantra. So, a child in India may grow up without ever reading a book about herself, about a girl who lives in an Indian town.
Finally, even where there are good bookshops for children-there’s a lovely one in Mumbai called Kahani Tree-children rarely get to pick their own books. Their parents or elders buy for them. I don’t think there’s a shortage of books for children, look at the number of publishers we have: Talking Cub, Duckbill, Puffin, Tulika, Pratham, Red Panda, Scholastic, Red Turtle and each one of these has some fine experimental books, pushing the envelope.
Tell me a bit about your writing process. Are you a disciplined writer someone who makes it a point to sit at his desk everyday, finish a number of pages everyday?
Well, I write every day. I set myself a target and work on a certain number of words each day. I believe it is an important thing to do for me at least, to write every day. Because if I say I am a writer, I should at least put in some time a day, writing. However, I don’t think of a writer as someone who writes because we all write. I think of a writer as someone who rewrites. So a lot of my time is spent in working on what I’ve already done.
I also spend some part of my day reading because that’s part of what reminds me of the great tradition I would like to be a part of, because I am reminded of what I am up against when I expect anyone to take time to read my book. And there’s some time that I spend every day with translation work. This can be checking facts, consulting with friends, looking up etymologies, things like that. This is the dull stuff but it also has to be done.
You have been instrumental in introducing English language readers to some fantastic Indian language writers through your translations. Do you feel we need more translators? Are publishing houses ready to bring out Indian writers in English?
Thanks to some strategic prize wins, publishers are now much more open to the idea of publishing translations. But there aren’t that many good translators around. This is because you don’t really get paid well for a translation and it does take up time and it is a lot of work. If you don’t get paid, you have to do it out of a feeling that there is a need for this. But that can’t be the only reason. You also have to love the book itself, you have to feel: I want more people to be able to read this book. And then it doesn’t matter how much you’re getting paid, you do it because you can and you do it because you want to and you do it because you should.
Post ‘Em and the Big Hoom’, which was a tremendous success, did you feel any pressure to write something on similar lines?
I am lucky to have a publisher like Ravi Singh of Speaking Tiger who takes each book on the terms it sets rather than looking at the books a writer has done before. So after ‘Em and the Big Hoom came out, I wrote ‘Murder in Mahim’ which was a whodunit but it was also about how Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was turning ten per cent of India into criminals simply because they chose to love someone of the same sex. And I won the REC-VOW award for fiction for it which made me very pleased indeed.
Poetry, novels, translations, editing – what comes naturally to you?
None of it comes naturally. It is all an effort of will. But none of it is forced. I don’t know how to explain this. I love writing and experimenting with language. I love inventing worlds. I love what I do. I guess I got lucky.
When you start a new work, do you ever feel nervous? The feeling if it would be any good?
I think there is always an element of nervousness not just at the beginning of the work but all through it, and often this can become so overpowering that I stop and never start again. But every writer experiences this moment where you find that it just isn’t working. You have two options. You can make it work or you can start something else. Often the decision is instinctive, or I like to believe it is instinctive but it could also be fear-based. Am I going too far? Where is this headed? Do I want to say this? Can I say this? All these questions are always playing in the back of your head. And sometimes the chorus can get unnerving.
There are other kinds of terrors when you’re rewriting. Am I pecking this to death? Am I over-writing? Am I doing too much? Am I doing too little? And then the fears of critics, of what friends might say, of what colleagues will say. But you have to write through it all. That’s what I try to do.
What are you working on next?
The next book is a “bildungsroman” set in the 1980s, it is the story of a young man growing up and trying to find a political identity, an aesthetic calling and love. Right now, I am working on getting it down to a manageable size. I always write too much and have to cut whole chunks out but the key is to have something to cut. (IANS)