Meet Manjul Bajaj whose book Another Man’s Wife has been shortlisted for The Hindu Prize 2013.
With her second book, Manjul Bajaj once again finds herself on the shortlist for The Hindu Prize. In Another Man’s Wife, Bajaj puts together a collection of nine powerful, emotive and contemporary stories, exploring issues of identity and relationships that lie at the root of the country’s societal norms.
What does being shortlisted for The Hindu Prize 2013 for the second time mean to you?
It feels very reassuring. Indian writing in English is burgeoning in all directions. These are exciting but very crowded times and writers are under a lot of different pressures. There is the pressure to package and market oneself aggressively in the social media. There is the subtle pressure to write to a more Western aesthetic, a sort of Granta/New Yorker-endorsed style and sensibility, to be in the running for international recognition. It’s easy to feel lost amid all this. So when a distinguished jury (many among them people whose work you respect) gives you its nod of approval not once but twice, it’s reassuring. I see it as a signal to keep my head low and focus on writing the kind of books I believe in.
After Come, Before Evening Falls, what was the impetus for Another Man’s Wife?
Most of the stories in Another Man’s Wife were written well before Come, Before Evening Falls. I submitted them to a literary agency, which got back to me saying they didn’t feel confident taking on short fiction from a newcomer, but were open to the idea of a novel. I heard similar murmurs elsewhere. Since a novel was something I wished to write in any case, I set the stories aside and wrote Come, Before Evening Falls. I returned to the short stories after that and decided to add in a couple more. Many of the stories draw upon my experiences as a development professional. Another Man’s Wife is based in tribal South Gujarat where my first job took me and which will always be a special place and a very special people to me.
I read that the stories in Another Man’s Wife were written over seven or eight years. When you put them together, in one collection, did you see your own viewpoint and authorial voice change as the years pass?
I would say that the last two stories — the title story and ‘Marrying Nusrat’ — are the work of a more confident author, someone who wasn’t so worried about how and where they would be published. They are longer works because I knew they were going into a collection that had more or less been accepted for publication. Otherwise, word count plays a lot on the mind of the short fiction writer, since there are very limited avenues for publishing and quality space is at a premium.
Every story in the book feels like an exploration, a sort of investigation of the self and of human love.
I am a firm believer in love, tolerance and kindness. I think the lack of these is what ails the world at both the personal and societal levels. You will notice that many of my stories go in search of the person inside the social or political conflict. There are a lot of things in our world that upset me — gender inequalities, class differences, over-consumption and waste, environmental degradation, loss of biological and cultural diversity. However, I am unable to get angry or feel hatred. I find it very difficult to buy into the good versus evil dichotomy. To me it’s all good, some of it grossly distorted for being stuck in a dark or damaged place. So, yes, my stories are an exploration of human love. They are an attempt to inhabit a difficult or conflicted space and ask what would be love’s answer to this, how would love find a way to flow through this particular setting or circumstance.
Yours is the only collection of short stories on the shortlist. How is the form of a short story different from that of a novel? Is it more liberating, or more limiting?
A short story is easier to accomplish in that it does not ask for a very lengthy commitment of time. But, I think it’s also tougher to write a memorable short story than it is to write a memorable novel — one has to make a mark on the reader’s mind in a much shorter frame. I don’t much care for very short fiction either as a reader or as a writer — I find it limiting and too dependent on tricks of plot to be meaningful. However, the longer short story and novella length are very liberating forms. They allow one to follow a character or a situation with intensity, unburdened by the need to bolster them with subplots and peripheral characters.
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