Of fiction & family matters

Of fiction & family matters

Akhil Sharma is the author of the novel Family Life, for which he won the Folio Prize in 2015. The novel, about a medical tragedy in the life of an Indian family that has migrated to the US, also made it to the shortlist of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2016.

The Delhi-born author is a Harvard Law School graduate, who resides in the United States. He teaches creative writing at Rutgers University in Newark. The short-story collection titled Mother and Son, and the novel An Obedient Father (recipient of several awards), are among his notable works.

Akhil Sharma spoke about his life in general, and his works, to Sunday Herald recently. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

‘Family Life’ took you 13 years to write. You’ve said you “wasted” nine years when it didn’t go well. What problems did you face?
I had problems with figuring out how to manage the plot. This was a technical challenge and took a long time to resolve. ‘Family Life’ addresses long-term illness and despair.

Do you think the healthcare sector in India is currently equipped to help ordinary people with chronic illness? What else needs to be done?
I don’t know enough about the healthcare sector in India to be able to comment. All I can say is that taking care of someone who is ill is very difficult, even in ideal circumstances.

What would you do differently if you had a second chance at writing the same novel?
Every book has its own challenges. The only significant difference I would make if I were writing the book over would be to not aim for perfection in the early drafts, and to also ask for help earlier.

After you found it difficult to establish yourself as a screenwriter, you turned to learning law at Harvard. Then your short story Cosmopolitan was made into a film. Do you see yourself as a screenwriter still?
I don’t view myself as a screenwriter.

Do you watch Hindi films? If yes, are there chances of you writing a story  for the films?
I don’t watch Hindi films now.

Which is your favourite Hindi film, and why?
Sholay. I think this is the favourite Hindi movie of every Indian born in the 70s.

How did you meet Lisa Swanson (wife)?
We met at law school.

What Indian food do you like most? Do you cook?
I like dosas and chole-baturas. It’s often easier to go out and eat than cook at home.

What facet of India do you keep close to your heart to feel you are an Indian in America?
The small statue of Ganesha on my desk.

How do you keep in touch with what’s going on in India?
I have relatives in India who I talk to periodically.

It seems there are more opportunities for Indian writers with many publishers out there. Is it true?
I think the international market has been open to Indians for sometime now. The opening started in the 1990s along with economic liberalisation.

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