Writer, poet and playwright Randhir Khare talks to Bishwanath Ghosh about the experience of being a chameleon, moving from genre to genre.

Randhir Khare has stood outside arty jamborees and literary movements, and found for himself a space truly his own. Excerpts from an interview.

Since you work in a variety of genres — poetry, short fiction, the novel, essays, plays, fable, travelogue and translation — what guides your choice when writing?

It’s got a lot to do with my state of mind at the time, what exactly I am trying to express, the need of the moment, the circumstances. The choice is not premeditated. I went to spend time by the Arabian Sea to work on my novel but I wrote Written In Sand, a long sequence of poems, instead. I wrote a book on the jungles of the Dangs in South Gujarat and thought that was that. But now I have also written a long poem sequence on the same jungles. I wrote plays because I couldn’t find scripts for my group of performers. I’m a Jack-in-the-box — with new ways to surprise myself. I nurture the creative spirit within and have no expectations of myself.

Which genre did you first start working in?

Poetry. And it has remained my emotional and creative ballast.

Would you say that there is an underlying theme/concern that dominates or is present in most/all of your work?

Yes of course. Three in fact. The struggle of marginal people or communities to survive and hold on to who they are in a world that has no place for them anymore. The experience of change and the trauma of transformation — whether human or natural. The celebration of the natural world and an acute awareness of the interconnectedness of all animate and inanimate beings.

You have written extensively about tribal communities and have documented their folklore and songs. What made you do this?

Because I see in their world-view and life rhythms the pure wisdom and reverence for life that is the bedrock of a truly human culture. I have relentlessly and passionately recorded, documented and presented tribal folklore and songs and carried them to other people — to build bridges of understanding and to nurture respect for true culture.

What drove you to launch the anti-terrorism public education and awareness campaign in the 1980s in Punjab and risk your life in the killing fields of the State?`

It had nothing, I assure you, to do with misplaced heroism or the need to become a martyr or try to change the world. I believe in life and the resilience of the human spirit. Keeping that spirit going was what I believed would challenge fear and death. The campaign was not to encourage people to “fight” or “engage” but instead to have the courage to get on with their lives in the face of bullets, bombs and knives. In the killing fields, no one was right and no one was wrong. It was just one big awful mistake.

Where do you place your new novel Walking Through Fire in relation to your other work?

It’s very much an intrinsic part of my evolution as a writer. Unlike my earlier short and long fiction, I have drawn on the story of my own life. Not in all its meatiness but in its essence and its structure… in the pivotal occurrences. In this respect, I am reminded of Yeat’s lines in his poem “The Circus Animal’s Desertion”: Now I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

The narrative in your novel is enriched by sensory experiences, this gives it lyrical and symbolic dimensions.

Absolutely. Spot on. The narrative of this novel is made up of fully lived moments distilled into pure emotions, thoughts, feelings, blending and mutating, recurring…like a fugue. Sensory experience gives the narrative its distinctive poetic quality.

You have said that the novel draws on life experiences that are transformed. What do you mean by “transformed”? How much of your other fiction does the same?

I use the pattern of my life’s experiences, my family circumstances, people I have known, the historical times I have lived through as starting points and frameworks. I did this essentially to stand the novel on its own two feet so that the narrative gets grounded in the so-called “real”. Once this happened I found myself free to transform the story of my life into a story with its own life. My other fiction drew on people, places and experiences I was familiar with — but not on experiences and circumstances of my life.

Would you agree that you are essentially a poet exploring the writing of fiction?

True. I began as a poet and the writing of poetry has enriched my written art (as only poetry can) but when I assume the role of story-teller, I become a story-teller and not a poet trying to write stories. I respond to genres like a chameleon. I am transformed over and over again…as I move from genre to genre.