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‘We should encourage multiple voices’: Interview with Janice Pariat

By December 19, 2017No Comments

Source : The Hindu

A free-wheeling conversation with author Janice Pariat, who was in the city recently, on translation, writing and reading.


I rush into the Rajasthani Sangh on DB Road in a tearing hurry because I’m late for my meeting with Janice Pariat. But the author puts me at ease as I stammer out my apologies. She’s been enjoying herself, she says, listening to the speakers at the two-day literature festival ahead of the Vishnupuram award.

We start with the reason she’s in the city: for the release of the Tamil translation of her book of short stories, Boats on Land. She’s “completely and utterly thrilled” but was “part of the process only in as much as I put Ramkumar in touch with Penguin Random House for the rights.”

Interestingly, each story in the book is being translated by a different person. “If we’re talking about translation as a multiplicity of texts, this is taking it to a whole new level,” she smiles happily.

She believes that there should be more translations from English into regional languages. “If we’re talking about idea of stories existing in many forms, of there being multiple storytellers, then translation is the way to go.” To her, translation is a deep engagement with the text that results in something totally new and the translated book should recognised as such.

“Many of us are so limited linguistically that we can access a text only in one language,” she laments and, in a glancing reference to what is going on across the country, adds, “We should be encouraging multiplicities, multiple voices, and knocking down borders of all sorts.”

She mentions a Khasi translation of Boats on Land, “which is special because that is the place where the stories are moored”. I mention that the folktales and myths of the northeast were as much a part of those stories as the place.

“One can’t really pry the two apart,” she muses. “Folktales, legends, superstitions are so much a part of our landscape because we are such an oral community and language maps the landscape.”


Nine Chamber

Her first attempts at writing as a young child were “terrible,” she laughs. She had an Enid Blyton fixation; “names, places characters plots…. I stole everything.”

However, growing up in the late 1980s and 1990s, she didn’t think she would be a writer. “Most of us had safe career paths chosen for us — engineer, doctor or whatever our parents deemed lucrative.” But she “drifted along working in publishing and magazines. I liked seeing my name on the pages and it helped me imagine I could actually be a writer.”

She’s written poetry, short stories, novels but says her writing is more about having different stories to tell and to see that they are told through the most appropriate genre. “Seahorse, for example, began as a novella but needed the space of a novel. The question I ask myself at the beginning of each literary project is ‘how can this story best be told?’.”

She describes poetry as “something that you feel in an instant and you try to clarify that feeling. There are times when I feel that whatever I am feeling can only be untangled through a poem. For me, poetry is something that helped me write when I was not writing and hopefully something meaningful has come out of it.”

We move on to her reading and she becomes very animated as she speaks of her literary resolution in January that she would only read in translation. She reels of a list: Catalan writer Albert Sánchez Piñol’s Cold Skin; Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz’s “mad bonkers of a book”, Ferdydurke, Elena Ferrante, Nirmal Verma, Perumal Murugan, Jose Saramago… “I tried to keep them not from same country or language.” The result: she’s found so many Englishes; “so many magical resonances in translations that a book originally written in English seems a little flat.”

Her next novel is something that she’s been thinking about since 2014. “If an idea sticks around that long, it’s trying to say something.”

It’s very different to her earlier works, she admits, and offers a little hint: It’s about a Victorian woman botanist. “I’ll leave you with that little bit of mystery,” she grins.

Nine Chambered heart

Her latest book is a “slim book with a simple premise”.

Nine characters talk about a woman whom they have loved or has loved them.

“It is a fictional biography told through love in all its different forms: Romantic love, deep intense friendship, mentorship, teenage adolescence fascination… You hear of her through these characters. But she doesn’t get a voice.”

Vishnupuram award

Named after author Jeyamohan’s cult novel, the award is given for contribution to modern literature in Tamil. Now in its eighth year, the award carries a cash prize of Rs1 lakh and a citation. This year the winner is C Muthuswamy from Malaysia.

Write way

When: While working on a manuscript, I am a deadly boring writer. I write from 9 to5 every day in a disciplined manner. No romantic gazing out of window. But when I am not working on manuscript, I am very erratic

How: It’s a mix of long hand and comp. I have a notepad and pen to jot down little things but prefer the convenience of laptop

What: I need a window. Even if I don’t gaze outside, it’s something that helps me connect to the world

Where: At my desk when working on a manuscript

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