A champion of the short story genre, Sujata Sankranti believes that writers have a global identity
The short story has lately been under siege. Publishers tell authors that the genre doesn’t sell. Short story writers pen novels to see themselves in print. And when Alice Munro finally won the Nobel last year, she was the first short story writer to win in a century of the award’s history. “I wrote short stories because I was stubborn,” says Sujata Sankranti, author of a short story collection The Warp and the Weft and Other Stories and winner of the First Prize in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition, 1998.
Almost two decades later, Sujata is still at it. “Short stories are intense and condensed, like visions. They are frozen moments to be extended upon by the mind,” she says. Besides her short story collection, Sujata has regularly been published in anthologies; the most recent of which have been Fear Factor: Terror Incognito and Alien Shores: Tales of Refugees and Asylum seekers - both collections of stories by Indian and Australian writers. The first featured her story ‘An Eye for an Eye’ on “mindless mass murders” and the second contained ‘No Name. No Address’ - a narrative based on Bangladeshi migrants in Delhi.
The third installation of this anthology series is the to-be-released collection themed on technology and the human mind. It holds her tale ‘Only Connect’, written 10 years ago, about a lonely boy addicted to video games who finds a second of self-realisation one morning. Sujata is in Kerala, from Mumbai, for the Biennale Conference of the Indian Association for the Study of Australia in Thiruvananthapuram.
Sujata, the writer, was also once Sujata, the professor of English, for 40 years. Just after her retirement from Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi, she published her first novel In the Shadow of Legends, set partially in the former Soviet Union and partially in Kerala.
Born to Malayali parents in Mavelikkara, Sujata left the State when she was nine, but her stories are often rooted in Kerala. In the Shadow..., for instance, draws a link between the Naxalite movement in Kerala and the USSR’s Marxist regime. “It looks at how ideology in theory is good, but in practice it often erodes human emotions.” Although the book was in principle a novel, its structure was a “string of composite short stories” for chapters, each told from a different point of view, but united by a central character. “I wrote this novel based on my time in Russia. I was carrying this story around in me for a while before I wrote it. It came out as a very natural novel. After writing short stories, I found the novel far easier.”
A few of the stories in The Warp... too talk of Kerala, but Sujata resists being labelled a Keralite writer. Her memories of the State and knowledge of its culture are drawn from her sister who lived here longer, but Sujata says her collection also talks of characters from across the country. “I don’t think writers should be called ‘Indian’ or ‘Australian’ or ‘woman’ or ‘Dalit’, because at the core of it, all writers across the world are the same; they are concerned with human beings - their emotions and relationships. It’s about a world literature.”
Literary terms spill easy in Sujata’s conversation from her vast experience in the academic world. Her ancestry too dabbled in the scholarly; her father studied Malayalam literature and her grandfather was the Malayalam grammarian A.R. Raja Raja Varma. But Sujata says she writes without the conscious burden of literary theory and criticism. “Stories come to me as quick ideas. I scribble them down immediately and then take time to plot them. I know the complete story before I begin writing it,” says Sujata. She is currently three-fourths through her second novel, one based on the immigrant experience.