Meet Anees Salim whose Vanity Bagh has been shortlisted for The Hindu Prize 2013.

What does being shortlisted for The Hindu Prize 2013 mean to you?

I grew up reading The Hindu Literary Review. And I was unimaginably happy when my debut novel was reviewed in it a year and a half ago. Now you can imagine how flattered this shortlist has left me.

A little about Vanity Bagh and its conception?

Vanity Bagh is about the Hindu-Muslim divide in India, and the place is a Muslim neighbourhood that is seriously influenced by the past and present of Pakistan. This mohalla is an underdeveloped part of a city called Mangobaag, which I think is a prototype of any Indian city that lives in the constant fear of communal riots. I have always been fascinated by the role of Pakistan in the Hindu-Muslim relationship in India. A minority of Hindus thinks all Muslims are pro-Pakistan and a section of Muslims feels that they are suspected of being potential traitors. I wanted to portray this air of mutual and perpetual distrust without employing a serious tone about it.

You’d faced many rejection letters before your book was accepted. Tell us about that time.

Rejections were really painful, especially the first one. But, in retrospect, I think they did a good thing. They taught me not to give up. By the time, I finished reading a rejection mail, I would have invariably made up my mind to write a new manuscript or rewrite the rejected one. So I ended up chasing more than a dozen literary scouts for three different books, telling each of them that the manuscript they were reading was my debut work.

You dropped out of college, traveled, worked in advertising, and now an author of four books. How has each experience shaped your writing, if at all?

Until the day I got my first book deal, the journey was not interesting. It was a bumpy ride full of uncertainties. I think most writers go through that phase; mine was probably a bit longer. I dropped out because I hated classrooms; may be I had a learning disability or I was just lazy. I started travelling because I thought that was how writers gathered their material. Travelling helped a great deal. The places I visited became the settings for my books and the people I met became my characters. I joined advertising because it is the only industry that doesn’t look down on dropouts. And I’m happy that I joined advertising; it made my life easier in many ways. A few interviews say I’m an ace advertising professional. I’m not. I didn’t even fancy being one.

The idea of being invisible, of no book launches and tours… where does it stem from?

I have always loved to be invisible. Even as a child, I looked at life from behind curtains and pillars. I’m not the kind of person who can hold a book, smile for cameras and talk to readers for hours on end. I have no such skills. I smile mostly when I’m alone; I laugh mostly with my characters.

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