Shalini S talks to author Rakshanda Jalil who has just put her step into the fiction world


Q) What made you take up writing?
A) In my case it was, to begin with, part of my job. I used to work at the India International Centre where I was required to contribute short pieces for the IIC Diary. From there it grew to a need to express myself in different ways -- as a translator, book reviewer, essayist, and now fiction writer.

Q) Most of your work is related to monuments. Any particular reason.
 A) No, not really, I have written a book on the forgotten monuments of Delhi and have written weekly and monthly columns on old monuments and conservation but that is a small part of my ouvre. Like I said, I review books, I write opinion pieces, essays, translations and now fiction.

Q) Most writers tend to start with fiction before venturing to writing non-fiction. You did the opposite. Why?
 A) There are all kinds of writers. It isn't true that people make a passage from one kind to another and the reverse is in any way unusual.

Q) Don’t you feel that a story loses its essence when it gets translated?
A) In a good translation, a story does not lose its essence; it merely acquires a different garb. The idea is to keep the spirit of the story intact. If as a translator you have managed to do that, you can say you have succeeded.

Q) Do you feel that the women today still have along way to go before they can actually claim to be equal to men?
A) I find such questions completely irrelevant.

Q) Is it very difficult for a woman writer to make her presence felt? Is her struggle more as compared to a man’s?
A) Being a woman has no bearing on your worth as a writer. I am sure men get as many rejection slips as women!

Q) In one interview you had mentioned that writing fiction is tougher. Why is that?
A) Writing fiction is tougher, yes, because it taxes you far more mentally. Also, you feel 'exposed' to the public eye in a way that you don't in the case of non-fiction. It is tough to allow yourself to be revealed. In that sense, fiction is more close to the bone.
Q) In your opinion is the youth today more interested in reading English authors than Indian authors. Why?
 A) I think save for a handful of authors like Paulo Coelho who are popular with the youth in India, Indian writers are not doing too badly. Maybe translations are not very 'hot' with the younger generation in India but fiction by Indian writers in English has certainly arrived in a big way. We have our very own 'chick lit' for heaven's sake! Isn't that sufficient indication?

Q) You have a full-time job. How do you manage your home and take time out to write?
 A) Time is flexible. You multi-task, you write on the run, you 'create' time.

Q) You were abroad for a year. Was it related to work?
A) No, my husband decided, rather late in life, that he wanted to study some more. So we lived in Belgium while he did his LLM. I worked, wrote, walked during my stay in Brussels but never full time! Staying abroad was never an option. Dil hai hindustani, kya karein.

Q) Is it easier to write short stories as compared to a novel? How?
A) I haven’t written a novel so I can't say from first hand experience, but I imagine a novel must be more difficult simply because of the scale. In the short story, the scale is smaller and therefore more within your control as a writer.

Q) Usually writers take inspiration for their characters from real life people. Does the same apply to you too?
A) Yes, of course. All of life inspires you in some way or the other --- sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. You write what you see, and experience either at first hand or at sometimes at twice, thrice removed but always what you instinctively know and understand. 

Q) Ghalib, or Prem Chand wrote not to make money but, because writing was a medium of expression to them. Do you think that new-age writers are writing novels that reach out to the readers?
A) Incidentally, both Ghalib and Prem Chand battled financial constraints all their lives and on many occasions wrote for monetary considerations as well. That does not make them any less the great men of letters they were. To respond to the second part of your question, there is nothing wrong in writing novels that 'suit' the readers. After all, all writers address the needs of their age. Occasionally, great writers define the needs of their age but mostly they simply address those needs. 

Q) Your mantra in life…
 A) I haven’t figured out that one yet.





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