Quick Take: Aatish Taseer

An interview with writer-journalist Aatish Taseer

Aatish Taseer 

British-born writer-journalist Aatish Taseer is the son of Indian journalist Tavleen Singh and late Pakistani politician and businessman Salmaan Taseer. He grew up in New Delhi, had his early education at a residential school in Kodaikanal, and moved to Amherst College in Massachusetts for his Bachelor of Arts degree in French and Political Science. He started his career in journalism and, as a freelance writer, has contributed articles to many newspaper and magazines. He is the author of several books and novels including Stranger to History, The Way Things Were, The Temple-Goers, Manto: Selected Stories, and Noon, the latest being The Twice-Born - Life and Death on the Ganges.

Excerpts from an interview:

Experience of writing ‘Twice Born’...

It was hard work, spread over many years. I went back to Benares again and again. I spoke to dozens of people for many hours at a time before choosing a few I wanted to write about. When I was done with the research, I set to work as a novelist, turning long conversations into narrative. I want to write a slim book with a broad sweep. I hope I’ve succeeded, but it will be many years before I have any real sense of what I’ve done.

Your relationship with India?

Tortured. The idea of it grows brighter even as the reality gets more remote.

Benares as a town...

Protean, now a labyrinth of horrors, now the living embodiment of the abyss, a city gazing fearlessly into a void.

Books on your nightstand...

Max Rodenbeck’s Cairo: The City Victorious and Omar Robert Hamilton’s The City Always Wins.

The book that most influenced your decision to become a writer...

The Satanic Verses, inadvertently. Salman Rushdie was the first writer I ever met. I was seven years old, and that meeting, on the eve of the fatwa, stayed with me forever.

The last great book you read?

Returning to Reims by Didier Eribon.

Genres you especially enjoy reading? And avoid?

I love books about travel and history; I like fiction; I do not like fantasy and science fiction.

Your favourite books and authors?

A Bend in the River by V S Naipaul; Hope Against Hope by Nadezhda Mandelstam; Stoner by John Williams; The Radetsky March by Joseph Roth.

If hosting a literary dinner party, which three writers would you invite?

Salman Rushdie, V S Naipaul and Rachel Cusk.

Books you find yourself returning to again and again?

Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories and Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival; I like books that make writing seem easy.

The reading you do while working on a book?

Essays, literary biographies, and the short comic novels of Evelyn Waugh.

The reading you avoid while writing?

Proust, or any other writing that sings in my head.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

Simplicity and development: I love to see something small, sentence by sentence, grow into a work of complexity. I look for a smooth arc — the more effortless, the more convincing.

What do you plan to write next?

A trilogy about literary and sexual awakening.

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