Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Author Interview : Paro Anand, author of ‘Like Smoke’ (Part 1)
Read up, the first part of Paro Anand, author of 'Like Smoke'. She writes at top speed, I can tell you that much, but I am going to let you in on another secret. This Interview was a brilliant one, because I got hold of it within 24 hours of sending in the questions, and for that, I thank you, Ms Anand :). Okay, I should have put it up then itself, but I didn't and for that you have my deep rooted apology, my Readers.
So, here it is. I won't go on and on. But you definitely have a Second Part coming up, and it is as good as this one, Folks...
How did ‘Like Smoke’ happen? Could you describe the journey?
Some books are a journey that you don’t even know you are on. Others happen in a sharp, short moment. ‘Like Smoke’ was the latter. It was soon after the terrible events of 9/11, I was in a school, standing on a balcony. From below came the sounds of a group of children talking loudly about it. One child said, on top of her voice, “I hate Muslims.” I was shocked. There was no apology, not even the faintest attempt to lower voice. And no one refuted her, in fact, they all agreed. I peeped over the parapet, the remark was so casual, but at the same time so full of actual hate.
As I watched, I could clearly make out that at least one child on the periphery was probably Muslim. But no one had even thought about what he may feel. All the others thought it was perfectly alright to say such a thing. Like the proverbial thorn in my side, this sentence, “I hate Muslims,” jabbed at me, at my conscience. I knew this was something I was going to have to write. But maybe, I didn’t have the words, or the courage to do it right away. But the more I waited, the worse the thorn became.
Because I could see that it was growing day by day. One heart, one careless word at a time. Obviously, these were thoughts and words coming to the children’s ears via their parent’s mouths. I couldn’t wait any longer. And so begins the book – with those terrible words.
There are nineteen other stories here, but this is the one that set the tone.
Could you describe how they came about… a couple of them that are most important to you, in particular?
So one of course, I’ve shared above. 'This is Shabir Karam...' is co-authored by my ‘adopted’ son, Shabir. This is by and large his real story. He needed it, wanted it told. And so, I built a world around his words and here it is. Shabir was in a workshop conducted by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in Kashmir, so this story and several others such as ‘Like Smoke’, ‘Those Yellow Flowers of August’ are inspired by my work with young people there.
'Hearing my own Story' actually takes root in another story, another book. That story, Babloo’s Bhabi is about domestic violence. Almost every time I would and do tell that story, I notice that one or two children are deeply shaken, it is obvious that they witness violence in their homes. So why not just drop it?
Because the deep positive impact that it has on the group as well. I think it is very important for such a taboo subject to be brought out and discussed and then the listener/reader be empowered to realize that they do not have to be helpless bystanders, but can be agents of change.
What according to you is different about your book?
Amongst the best compliments, I have ever got is that I am a fearless writer to tell the truth to children. This is a collection of truths (except, probably ‘Like Father Like Son’, which is just for the fun of it).
Truths of what children go through whether it is the huge ugly truths of violence or the seemingly silly problems like poor body image, that are enormous to the teen.
I also think this is the most complete collection of short stories that I have written, because, as I say in the foreword, you don’t have to read it start to finish, “pick it up every now and then and read the story that catches your eye, scratches your itch…”
How would you relate the lives of characters to the lives today? Any similarities?
I think teens the world over, and over generations, all face certain impactful moments like feeling they are ugly, or having their aspirations trampled upon, or standing up to bullies. Then there are some new challenges like what people face in Kashmir – well, not new, but certainly, uncommon.
Are they influenced by people you meet in real life or do they just come to your head?
Because I work with young people, whether in privileged urban surrounds, or more challenging ones, through my program ‘Literature in Action’, I am deeply influenced and inspired by them.
In fact, I don’t think I could really write without my work face to face with kids, and I don’t think I could work with kids if I didn’t write. So, its two sides of the same coin really.
What was the most challenging part about writing this book?
Finding a balance, so that the book was not too grim or too heavy. I wanted it to be more rounded. And, also keeping in mind that these were short stories. I had got into the rhythm of novels.
Of course, as any writer will tell you, it’s the discipline, the stealing of time. I wrote much of this book sitting in traffic jams. (I am not doing the driving, mind!) It’s what I call ‘riding the jam’
Who was it that told you that you could become the author, you are today?
Plan A was to become a rock star, but other than remember all the lyrics, I couldn’t sing. Plan B was to work with wild animals, but I couldn’t find a job. Plan C was to be an actress.
When A and B fell through I tried C, but got a job as a drama teacher. I couldn’t find any scripts that I really loved that were Indian, so I started writing them. That’s how I fell into writing. Rather like Alice down the hole.