What has been the creative process in writing your latest novel KHELA especially when you are writing after so long?
I would not say that I had a solid framework while writing this novel. I just wanted to keep on writing passionately at that point of time. I followed my instincts and started writing, later on the story found its flow with the help of the characters.
And yes, there is a gap between my two novels. But this was not a deliberate choice. In the meantime, I wrote some long stories. If we talk about any relaxing point between the genres, then long stories are like the same breathing space for me. I wanted to be a part of the joyful process of creation and indulged myself by writing continuously in the same mode.
By and large all the characters are involved in some activity (Khela), they are coming out of dark aspects of life. Though the plot of your book remains within the country, yet if we see deeper it is not confined to India only. We find global political issues as well. International politics also forms major part of your book, issues like the Islamic State, the Syrian crisis, capitalism, and terrorism are well raised in it. The plot of your novel revolves around oil and how global powers are competing for it. This theme requires a lot of discipline and facts, How did you research it? What was the process?
Oil politics and its world used to pull me and I started following the articles related to it. But I did not imagine that this world would be included in my writings like a thin thread. Further, while writing the novel, I did not think of any focused research either.
The inner layers of the novel are woven from the threads of human life and struggle in different geographies and different periods. On the one hand in the plot where the players of the world market are playing game of checkmate on different chessboards starting from colonialism, religion, violence, trade to man-woman relationship, on the other hand even common people within their mind have set a ground for themselves, in which sometimes they are seen playing games with their opponents, sometimes with their close ones and sometimes with themselves.
But in any battle ground, there is not just check & mate. Apart from these conditions, there is also a third thing, which is actually a process to reach from one decision to another. This aspect is not visible, but the outcome of the game really depends on that undercurrent. To some extent, this novel is basically the story of that invisible aspect. It is a story of ordinary people who are surrounded by violence, greed, money, religion, terror but they stand by their commonness with the freedom to hold on to their decisions, ideas and struggle.
I would like to congratulate you that you have written everything in a very interesting manner with a lot of facts. I have never read a book like this which is written in such an interesting way with great language. Issues like Iran’s stand on nuclear weapons, and international treaties show the depth of your knowledge and writing. Your novel is not very loud, you raise the issue of women’s discourse but in a subtle way. All your women characters are very strong and natural and the most important thing is that they don’t hide their weaknesses. The story which started with Dulari has now come to Vara Kulkarni who is standing against influential powers. Please tell us more about your women protagonists.
The two characters you named- Dulari & Vara, are ordinary women, but at the same time they are unpredictable and free-spirited characters who believe in themselves. They go overboard in favor of freedom of choice. At the end of their journey, they may gain little, or nothing, but they are happy to make even a so called meek statement in favor of their freedom of choice.
Do you have a political stand on burning issues of the world not as an author but as an individual. Like Vara meets a man in a foreign country who is a terrorist and also the son of Mrs. Gomes, moreover she faces sexual harassment but she remains quiet. So when you wrote this, were you affected and depressed by it, what was your stand? Do you have a political ideological stand behind these or you have just written it in a creative flow?
There is a gap of almost 4-5 years between the writing and publication of this novel. Therefore, there is no scope for the fact that the incidence under reference was written in a writing flow. Because if that were the case, I had more than sufficient time to edit that.
Now coming to the point where Vara is being sexually harassed and it appears that she is not reacting to that assault in worldly recognized ways. Coincidentally, at the same point when a woman’s existence is being subjected to the greatest attack, as defined by society, she becomes attuned to the core question of her soul, which in her definition is most deeply linked to her existence. The moment she is assaulted by a terrorist, she finds a way to reach the answer to the question of whether she left her lover because he belonged to another religion. In Vara’s world, that physical assault pales in comparison to her own mental struggle. If I look at this incident from the point of view of my consciousness, then I could see that at that moment Vara has come close to being an almost complete human being because in that difficult juncture she finally finds the courage to face the difficult and uncomfortable question that emerged out of her soul and which she had been conveniently postponing to consider earlier.
Neelakshi I would like to say though your characters are simple but the language you choose is remarkable, it’s extraordinary. We see authors usually have a kind of trademark language but with your work, it’s not the case. You write beautifully, the words you use are extraordinary, sometimes the sentences you use seem too lengthy, and words are difficult to understand which only certain kind of readers can read. Do you think I am wrong?
Language is like the thread that holds a composition. It is also to be kept in mind that whenever the plot or characters are in hold of the stirring, then it has to take back seat and hide itself, but when other things get a little slow in the whole journey, then the language has to emerge from the backstage for some time, so that the flavor remains there in the composition. In the whole process, sometimes the language becomes a bit complicated, taking different forms according to the situation. But a writer’s job is also to provoke the reader to go some extra miles in decoding the text.
Finally, you have written Khela, what do you feel as an author? How you are feeling about the accomplishment of the book? Are you satisfied or do you feel still there is something left in you that you will write in the next novel?
Not an accomplishment at all. Rather, after writing and getting published, there is more of an emptiness inside me. The question arising out of this emptiness will not even wait till the next thing is written. Rather, even when I am not writing, I will keep looking for the answers.
How and how much effect of the present is recorded on the writing of the author?
The fingerprints of time are continuously registered in the psyche of every human being. Rather, sometimes those things go on disappearing a lot. So along with a lot of living files on the screen of our mind, there is also a recycle bin that you can peep into and restore things back to life. Obviously, the same process happens with a writer as well. In this way, every incident directly or indirectly leaves a mark on the mind. Sometimes it also happens that seemingly big events don’t affect you in the same way a small, unknown thing affects you. Thus, there is no fixed hierarchy of possible effects of various events in the mind. Even the smallest thing can prove to be decisive. But inside, a continuous preparation goes on all the time.
Earlier readers used to write letters to their favourite authors, and communicate with them now people say the time has changed, do you think book lovers still love their authors as much as they did earlier?
Today’s readers want to love their author with the same intensity, but time has dimmed their imagination. During those days, information about the author’s personal life or other works attributed to him/her was difficult to obtain. That’s why many times the readers used to expand their imagination and build their relationship with the author in a very original, unique and intuitive way. Today it is easy for people to approach each other… the pages of life of the person in front seems to be open but the way to reach the heart and mind has been left behind. That’s all the contrast and this difference is not only in the relationship between the writer and the reader, but it is more or less the story of every human relationship.
Neelakshi Singh is a contemporary Hindi Author. In 2004 she won Sahitya Academy Golden Jubilee Young Writers Award. Besides she is also recipient of Katha Award & Ramakant Smriti award, O.P Malviya Bharti Devi Award (2021), KLF Book Award (2021), Valley of Words Award (2022) & Setu Pandulipi Samman (2022). She has three Story Collections, two Novels and one memoire to credit. At present she is an employee with the State Bank of India.
A political Science professor by profession Preety Choudhari is a published writer and a literature enthusiast. She is active in the field of International Politics, Indian Foreign Policy and Women’s Studies. She has worked on foreign policy under the fellowship of Lok Sabha. Recipient of Sahitya Gaurav Award and Hari Krishna Trivedi Yuva Writing Award. One title- ‘Deh Dhare ko Dand’ to credit.