A mirror to society

A mirror to society

Author Interview

The central theme for Palash Krishna Mehrotra’s debut collection of short stories titled Eunuch Park, is ‘love and destruction’. After recently editing Recess, a collection of schoolday stories, this one, a stark contrast from the previous, comes as an interesting surprise. Excerpts from an interview with Palash:

Sexuality, perversity, drugs, family complexities — all exist in our society, but Indian audiences tend to be a bit wary about discussing it openly. Were you skeptical about how they would respond to some of the themes that you’ve picked?

To be honest, I had no sense of the reader when I wrote these stories. That the book managed to touch a chord came as a pleasant surprise. If one writes in the realist vein and wants to hold a mirror to society, certain subjects become inevitable, choose themselves. I have tried to write about things that are familiar to all of us, like ragging or feelings of sexual inadequacy. In the process if I have unsettled the reader, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Most of the stories end somewhat ambiguously. Do you prefer to leave your stories open-ended?

Every good short story is open-ended. This is what distinguishes a story from a novel. Stories, like poems, work by implication. They don’t give you a neat narrative with all the loose ends tied up. Because life is not like that. A short story has its own twisted logic. When it runs out — and a good short story writer knows exactly when to stop — the story comes to its natural conclusion.

What is it about short stories that appeal to you? Why ‘love and destruction’ as the central theme?

The short story is a wonderful form. It provides the reader with few of the consolations that a novel does. Time and space extend indefinitely in the novel. The short story is not interested in such illusions. It’s hard and precise. When a novelist stops writing for the day, she asks herself the question: “How many words did I write today?” When a short story writer takes stock, she asks herself: “Did I get any closer to the truth? Did I nail anything?” Believe me, they are two very different questions and they come from very different imaginations.

Speaking specifically of the stories in Eunuch Park, I really had so many stories to tell (I always do) that the novel seemed very constricting as a form. ‘Love and Destruction’ because my characters are capable of enormous love but also enormous destruction, of themselves as well as of those around them.

It is said that a writer’s debut novel, especially in cases of fiction, usually has large doses of themselves in it. Does it seem like that in your case?

I am an autobiographical writer. Like Saul Bellow, I believe that all fiction is disguised autobiography. I see and hear things. They might happen to me or I might see them happening to others. I might read about them. At some point my imagination takes over and a new story is born. By autobiographical, one doesn’t mean that these are true stories. ‘Fit Of
Rage’, for example, was written for an anthology called Delhi Noir. The editor wanted me to put in a murder. I haven’t murdered anyone nor do I know anyone who has.

Most writers have certain themes that they keep returning to. What are some of the themes that you continue to be intrigued by?

Death, perversion, self-destruction. Also, the individual’s struggle to find out what makes her happy, what makes her sad, what fills her with rage.

What clichés about writers do you find yourself agreeing with, in your case that is?

They drink too much.They smoke too much.

What is ‘The Butterfly Generation’, the book you are working on  currently about?

It’s a non-fiction narrative about urban youth in the cities. It’s partly a memoir of growing up in 80s socialist India, partly a travelogue through India’s big cities. I try and paint a portrait of a generation that has made the remarkable journey from steam engine to broadband in a very short time.

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