13 July 2016

Author Q&A Session #82: With Tabish Khair

Hello and Welcome dear readers,

Its been such a good day for me. Hope your days are going great. It's been a while since I've used this space to talk about daily nonsense about my life, well, there's not much to divulge about life, but I'm here today with an amazingly and extremely inspiring author, whose book is making noise in the literary world.

Let's welcome Tabish Khair with open hearts into this forum, where he is here to discuss about his new book, Jihadi Jane with me. So without wasting any more second, let's chat with his talented author about his new book, his life as an author and anything and everything bookish.

Keep scrolling and stay tuned...

Read the review of Jihadi Jane

Me: Hello and welcome to my blog, Tabish. Congratulations on your new novel, Jihadi Jane (also to be published as Just Another Jihadi Jane in UK and USA in August/September 2016) How will you express your feelings about this book that has already won the hearts of so many readers?

Tabish: I never know what to say of a book that I have published. All I can say is that I feel it is finished, that it says what I wanted to say. Or I wouldn’t publish it. Apart from that, it is up to the reader. Though I do see the reader as someone I try to walk towards but also expect to walk towards me. A good novel, a good book cannot be served to the reader on a platter. The author moves towards the reader, the reader moves towards the author, and there is a meeting of minds somewhere in between: that is the book. As Stephen King says, it is the closest we come to telepathy!

Me: How did you research for your book that depicts the current day plague- terrorism and the Islamic fanaticism? Can you tell us briefly about it?

Tabish: You know, this is a novel. Of course, I looked up what I could, studies, politics, ideological tracts; I especially read travel accounts of Syria and Iraq – before the places were devastated because of ill-conceived interventions from the West, the myopic Shia-Sunni politics of the region, and different kinds of uncivil native intransigence, as well as the fanaticism of Islamism. But finally it is a novel, and the only research you really need to do in order to write a novel is into human beings, yourself and others, into life in all its variety and contradictions. The rest are facts, and facts are easy to look up. What a novel tries to get to is the truth – the many truths – beyond facts. Facts are necessary, but not sufficient for fiction.

Me: Are you not worried that some people around the world might call your book as racist?

Tabish: Well, white supremacists might not like the fact that I depict racism and islamophobia in the West; Islamists might not like the fact that I not only criticise ISIS (which most Muslims do anyway) but I also hold peaceful branches of Islamic fundamentalism partly complicit in creating the grounds for organizations like ISIS. You see, I have written strongly against Western racism in the past –racism of the sort that believes that if you are white, you are superior and justified in dominating and exploiting others. But I do not see how religious fundamentalists who believe that their particular belief is superior and gives them the right to dominate the world, today or in the future, are any different from white racists.

Me: Tell us one trait about your main character, Jamilla and Ameena, that intrigues you the most.

 Tabish: Actually, they do not share many traits. Maybe not one. I wanted to create characters who are swayed by not just fundamentalism but violent Islamism, but I did not want to reduce them to automatons. The boys and girls who embrace militant Islamism are not necessarily alike; they are moved by different causes, as were Jamilla and Ameena, and thev react differently. It is not fair to consider them zombies. It is dangerous.

Me: You highlight that Jihadi Jane is a novel. How was it to create a female narrator in the novel?

Tabish: Difficult and exhilarating. The narrator, Jamilla, is not just a woman, she is younger than me. A lot younger. These things had to be taken into account. Finally, Jamilla, and more so Ameena, speak a different kind of English, having grown up in Yorkshire. Jamilla is conservative and avoids dialect but Ameena, who has tried very hard to belong to the place, often uses dialect, especially in the beginning. That was a challenge too. Of course, I could just have paraphrased their speech, but finally I tried to give Ameena’s dialogues a touch of dialect. You see, whether it is Mark Twain’s or Salman Rushdie’s, no literary language is a verbatim transcript of dialect or spoken language. It involves a creative use, departures as well as resonances. That is what I tried to achieve with Ameena. I was motivated by the fact that while the Rushdies and Kiplings of the world can get the Tabish Khairs in their novels to speak in ‘literary dialect’, and receive justified praise for it, it has not yet been permissible for the Tabish Khairs of the world to make the Rushdies, let alone the Kiplings, in their novels speak in literary dialect. I thought it was time to stick out my neck and do it, even though I know that the literary world wields machetes that are almost as sharp as any wielded by militants!

Me: How will you describe your journey so far as an author?

Tabish: Difficult. But it is not a choice. This is what I have to do.

Me: Was it always your one true dream to be an author?

Tabish: Yes, that is what I meant, though I find the word ‘dream’ not fully appropriate in my case. It was more of a compulsion. I wish it had just been a dream, a much more pleasant matter. But I had to write. Don’t ask me why, it was just something that I had to do – and I have to do.

Me: What other passions do you have, apart from writing?

Tabish: Not many. I am a quiet man; I dislike controversies. I like living a quiet family life. I read a lot of course; I listen to music, though mostly old-fashioned stuff. I like doing some gardening and cooking. I used to like travelling, but find it less fulfilling now. Maybe I have travelled too much. Though I must say I do still feel the urge to travel once or twice every year.

Me: What's next up on your writing sleeves? Please tell us briefly about it.

Tabish: I am always working on projects, when I can make time from my professional and domestic responsibilities. Which is not often. Sometimes I do not get even a day to write creatively for 2-3 months at a stretch. I have been working on a family saga kind of novel for two or three years now; I think it will take many more years to finish, so I might take a break and write something simpler and short in between. If something comes up and demands it. One never knows.

Me: Thanks Tabish for joining me today on this interview session. I wish you luck for all your future endeavors.

Tabish: It has been a pleasure. Good luck with your writing-blogging too, Aditi.

Tabish's Bio:

Tabish Khair was born and educated in Bihar, India. He worked in Delhi as a Staff Reporter until his late twenties and is now a professor at Aarhus University, Denmark. Winner of the All India Poetry Prize, his novels have been shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize (Hong Kong), the Hindu Best Fiction Prize and the Crossword Vodafone Literature Awards (India), the Encore Award (UK) and for translation prizes in Denmark and France.

Connect with Tabish on: WebsiteGoodreadsFacebook

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes it is nice to chat or talk nonsense Aditi! One thing is for sure, your blog posts are never nonsense!


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