Nikesh Murali, winner of the Commonwealth Short Story prize for the Asian region in 2011, talks about his determination to become a writer, and his style of writing
Nikesh Murali, the winner of the Commonwealth Short Story prize for the Asian region in 2011, resides in one Commonwealth country while he hails from another where all his stories are located. A true blue ‘Trivandrumite' now living in Canberra, he belongs to a new generation of writers who believe success is not an accident, but something with a pattern that needs a determined path of preparation.
Nikesh admits he always knew that he wanted to be a writer and his planning for life reflects just that. “I started writing and publishing my poetry mostly in e-zines. Lecturers of Mar Ivanios College, where I did my Bachelors degree in English Literature from, fostered and encouraged my creative pursuits.” He is currently doing a part-time Ph.D. in Creative Writing at James Cook University in Australia.
“I think a PhD in Creative Writing will give my literary fiction manuscript the gravity it needs to make it to a major publisher.”
First international win
This is his first international win, but he has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2007 as well as for a few local writing awards in Australia. So where do his stories come from?
“My fiction is mostly set in India and is written for an Indian audience and an international audience that would like to connect with stories from our region. The Maoist, the story which won the Commonwealth prize is inspired by my longstanding concern for the brutal civil war that has been raging in the red corridor and my distaste for middle class Indians who would much rather ignore the whole issue than use their clout to improve the condition of people there. The Prostitute is a real life story narrated by a friend.”
If he is so concerned about his part of the world, then why did he leave it and choose to live elsewhere? “I was not fleeing; I left India partly because I needed the distance to tell these stories effectively. I was seeking a vantage point, the sharp eye of an outsider. ”
Nikesh started off with poetry, but soon took up fiction. “I wanted access to more readers and that is how I took up writing short fiction. I have been writing and regularly publishing short fiction since 2005. I have been lucky finding an audience for my stories via online magazines and academic journals. I was also recognised locally in Townsville, in the state of Queensland for my fiction. I was nominated for Townsville Award in Writing twice.”
So, what does he like to read? His reading? “My favourite is Marquez and my literary god is Cormac McCarthy.”
So what does the Commonwealth recognition mean to him? “The Commonwealth Short Story prize win has definitely given me the recognition I need to progress to my next goal which is to write longer works of fiction.”
His connection with Malayalam Literature? “I have started reading some of the classic Malayalam novels. Legends of Khasak is a favourite. I am also reading works by M.T. and Mukundan. I am working on a novella set in Kerala as homage to O.V. Vijayan. I would like to get some short stories translated into Malayalam and get it published in Kerala. It's just that I am more comfortable writing in English.”
How about his graphic novels? “You often write what you read. So it was a natural progression for me to work with artist Vinay Brahmania to create a children's graphic novel titled Veera the Guardian set in a fantasy world where a rag picker turns into a super hero. The series was so successful that the publishers were inundated with phone calls from readers demanding more. Vinay and I have a few more projects in the pipeline. Indian comic book industry is undergoing a revival and I am glad to be a part of this new wave of writing.”
Nikesh is also currently at work at a supernatural romance for young adults which he hopes will be “India's answer to the Twilight series and I hope I can write a grammatically correct, less sparkly version.” Nikesh is a communications manager in the Australian Public Service. He is also a creative writing trainer.