This post is in continuation of the first interaction with Nadine.
You are so good at this whole interview thing. Only a mother or a good teacher can do this so well as you do, and you happen to be both [even if you are not teaching full time now, in my defence, I’d say, ‘she who teaches once remains a teacher forever’].
[6th Of March, 01:11 PM: The writeup in this square bracket has been written after the questions were answered. This whole experience just got better. The questions, exquisite as they already were, couldn’t possibly have been answered in a better setting than I answered them in. Why is that light always manage to eliminate the darkness, Nadine, or is it only in the darkness that we appreciate light? I have not written anything for so long now, the last thing that I wrote was an article in response to your questions, and now this. And so, thank you for being that light. And for making me write.]
This article is just as much about you as it is about me. So, let us begin:
Nadine: Something beautiful has happened. I have been studying your work alongside that of another fiction author and something magical has happened inside me. I am able to write again. I mean I am always able to write but something feels different, like the way it did when I started nearly four years ago. Through your work, as with other authors, you have taught me everything I wanted to know. The interview is meaningless for me now, except that I think many others would benefit from it. I have many versions of this interview materialized already. I have a strange meta-nonfictional novella that was begun and left hanging last Tuesday when I realized it was fiction. I have the review-style interview that is several pages long which talks about minute details in four of your pieces during which I kept getting interrupted and later could not decide what to leave in or out, for fear it was getting too long. I have the conversation-style interview which is one page long but that only opens the conversation. None of them is perfect, all of them make no sense to me now although there is meaning in that itself. I have only to write the Tinkerbell-sized one that I will write here, now, and send to you before time runs out. I am sitting at desk under a skylight in France, there is a wind thundering across the roof tiles, a white sun is making itself gold in a silver sky. I have just finished grocery shopping and soon have to pick up my children for lunch.
Well, thank you. There is absolutely nothing better a writer can hear about his work than the fact that it inspired someone. You can, when all these different versions of the interview are ready, send them across to me and I’ll ensure that all the questions are answered with an increased vigour than the previous.
Let us now begin with the questions of this version at hand:
1) Tell me what you are doing at this moment. Give us everything in your present reality and experience, the sounds, the smells, the temperatures, the tastes, the sights in your immediate vicinity as you sit down to right this. What are you feeling and what are you using to write. Who is around you or are you alone. How fast are the words appearing on the page?
[5th of March, 8:43 A.M.] I am at the airport. A friend, who is more like a brother, is getting married. And though I hate attending marriages (more on this will follow in some story, some other day), he is more important than this foible of mine. I am thinking about him, and of all the things we did together as kids and of the time we spent together (why is it is only when one turns into an adult does he then realize that the childhood was so glorious, Nadine? The present has this terrible habit of making the past seem glorious. When I was a kid, I had always wanted to grow up, for many reasons — to own a car, to have my own wallet with some money in it, but most importantly to get rid of the academic exams – which, by the way, I used to top).
The flight is delayed. Things that are supposed to be on time always end up being delayed in India and this includes trains, buses, repentance for having wronged someone and seeking forgiveness from that person. And this happens all the time for almost all the possible reasons. Today’s was a technical glitch, but we Indians don’t mind these delays much (perhaps that is what habits do to you, you get used to certain things and then you do not question much about them). Having had completed all the formalities, and to bide the time, I decided to eat something and headed straight to a vendor, and notwithstanding the fact that I absolutely love the American food and the fact that I just can’t have it in the morning I ordered it nevertheless for some reason and had to let go half the burger off in the trash.
Tea is something I cannot do without. I asked the vendor for the best tea they serve, and he handed me a cup of Assamese tea. It couldn’t possibly have been their best. (Nothing annoys me more than a bad tea in the morning).
The best part about the delayed flights (at least in my country) is that its arrival can never be accurately predicted again. I was writing this and suddenly the speakers pronounced that the travellers to Indore should make their way for the boarding. [And ironically this is a silent airport, came in a notification just after the announcements were made. There is so much mirth in India, Nadine, of course, if one is up for it]. I am Interrupted. Will resume.
[9:39 A.M.] I am in the flight now, and inevitably surrounded by so many people, all minding their own businesses, except a few mothers, who are also taking care of the business of their children and are already feeding them, like they always do. I reminisce about the time my own mother used to run after me with food and ended up beating her own head to emotionally force me into eating (do you do that Nadine? Indian mothers do that a lot, or at least from where I come, they try all they can, and in the end, they end up hitting their own heads with their hands to indicate what great misfortune befell them after they gave birth to children like us).
I smell food, particularly pickles, we Indians are pickle zealots, Nadine. The flight has not taken off yet and people in the seat ahead of mine are already dipping their fingers in the pickles.
I was made to change my seat twice, the first time by a boy who wanted to sit with two of his friends (both girls) and then by a mother who expressed her desire to sit next to her baby girl, who otherwise would have to be seated apart. She was cute, the baby girl. And they looked so happy together. (There is something very powerful seeing a mother accompanying her daughter on journeys. They dress up beautifully, they smile, they kiss each other on the cheeks for trivial accomplishments, and they feed each other a lot). The plane is taking off, time to pray. Will resume.
9:48 AM: Nothing scares me more than turbulence in the plane, and illness, and hospitals, and cats, and dogs, and grasshoppers, and cockroaches, and rats – my biggest fear. I am digressing.
9:54 AM: Doesn’t seeing things in motion motivate you, Nadine? When I am dismal I stand at a vantage point and observe people. Seeing people move, going about in their daily chores, is so motivating. I am on a flight, it is moving so fast, carrying so many people forward towards their destination, so many stories will be shaped once all these people reach their destination. How mystical is the meagre thought that once all these co-passengers reach where they are headed to, they’ll experience something which they’ll experience only this once in their lives?
Some are sleeping now, a vociferous girl is expressing her love for the Chinese food, and the cute mother with her cute baby girl is playing one of those ‘block-building’ games with her. I am digressing again… It is about time we move on to the next question.
2) Tell me one thing you wish your writing would accomplish in this world.
Very vividly do I remember telling one lie to myself and it was that someday, someone, from someplace would read what I was then about to write and that the reader will be able to relate to what I was saying. Writing, for me, has always been about connection, I am happy you were able to relate to what I wrote so far, and I can never be any more grateful than I already am for all that you have done to motivate me, Nadine. This means so much. Thank you.
Whatever I will ever tell in my stories has already been told by someone, and sad as that fact may be, but it still feels so powerful when someone says that they were able to relate to what the writer wrote. The biggest accomplishment, for me, would be able to strike that connection with the readers…
3) Tell me the greatest fear you have about accomplishing that thing.
Your (and all the other readers) running out of love that you have for me and for my stories.
4) Tell me how you know you will overcome that fear, as you discover it by writing through it at this moment.
By continuing writing the stories (this must be one of those grammatically wrong statements that people politely ask me to improve on and I fail them every time I write something new).
By heeding to the suggestions from magnificent and munificent people like you and by incorporating this advice to improve my craft.
And by hoping. By hoping that things will be fine, the stories will come out of me, like they have managed to so far.
5) Tell me about your understanding of truth, in this moment, and its importance in your work. Now tell us why it is called fiction.
Which truth? Your truth, my truth, the truth?
I don’t know about your truth, and I doubt I’ll ever really understand it.
I might, – and I am strongly emphasizing the word ‘might’ here – I might convince you of my truth by the power of my writing someday. As many other people have had done in the past.
And, as to ‘the truth’, neither of us know it to be true yet, and the moment we do won’t it end up becoming your truth and my truth diluted by our prejudices and our understandings. My understanding might be better than yours, but your truth will always be closer and more meaningful to you than mine.
And was it not Oscar Wilde who told “Truth is rarely pure and never simple”, I am not sure if it was him, but it could only have been him. As I am in the flight I can’t look up for the correct author, and I won’t look up for it for even if it were someone else, I’d at this point like to attribute the quote to Oscar Wilde for reasons unfathomable.
There are no truths in my stories, Nadine, just like there are no truths in life. There are just occurrences, what befalls us in life, and how we go about dealing with those circumstances and explaining those – to ourselves more than the others. The truth, then, must be the story that we tell ourselves when we are alone, naked under the showers, sealing every word of it with the water that falls from above. Perhaps that is how fiction is formed and perhaps that is why fiction appeals almost with the same vigour as life.
The closer the story gets to the life the more likely it is to be entitled as a work of fiction – by the author, by the moderators, or by some enlightened reader – but all of them know the fact that all that they have just read is not fictitious, and only the characters of the story – apart from the writer – knows where the facts end and the fiction begins.
That is all, Nadine. For now.
I loved this experience. It feels as if you were here, next to me, asking me these questions. Thank you again for these wonderful questions, and for the faith that you have in me. I earnestly hope that my answers do justice to all the time you have invested in these questions, and in me. But rest assured for all that has been written in the answers is true. And from the heart.
Love from India,