Interview Literary Review

‘Writing is a complicated joy’

Shinie Antony: Examining what words. Photo: Rachna Singh  

Why did you write The Orphanage for Words? Do you think something has changed in the way words are used in our times as compared to our parents’ or grandparents’ times?

The emotion behind the words disappears, rendering the words null. Or the context moves on. If your dad is gone, there’s no one to call ‘dad’ anymore. If your mom has Alzheimer’s, she won’t answer to ‘mom’. When you like someone; for the duration of the like, even ‘darling’ doesn’t begin to express what you want to say. But the minute that affection is gone or mixed-up with other feelings, you can continue to say ‘darling’ but it won’t mean a thing.

Why is the book dedicated to your dad?

Like for most daughters, my father was the love of my life and he, without any warning and most impolitely, passed away two years ago. Which in a long rambling way — after beating myself up for not saying this, that and the other to him when I had the chance — brought me to examine what words mean anyway. Hence this book. 

Is this book different from your previous work?

My first book, Barefoot and Pregnant, was about dysfunctional motherhood; Planet Polygamous about infidelities and Seance on a Sunday Afternoon about urban loneliness. This collection is about loss, about coming to terms with it. Let’s start with the words that make no sense, have no place in our life anymore. Loss demands a de-cluttering.

What motivates you to write?

Each story comes from a particular point within us. You start by thinking people so wily. But you yourself are so wily, so unknowable, with shifting loyalties, wary of others. In the end, you are what you call people. These connecting points — the emotions that swamp ocean-like but are the same commonplace stuff that everyone goes through at some time or the other — form a kind of invisible hand-holding and the need to share stories.

In the first story, ‘Girlfriends’, you say, “Hope, a refined form of self-abuse…” Can you talk a little about what hope means for you at this point in your life?

Relationships may be built on laughs and gossip and good times but the acid test is loss; a body part, a parent, a child… you lose any of these and your intimacies shape-shift. Your relationship with the world changes. Real bonding comes through only at times of such acute grief. Whom can we turn to, whom to trust? And is there such an entity — ever-understanding, all-forgiving, non-judgmental — that we can turn to? Our search and belief can scar us...

How do you know when an idea is ideal for a short story or as a novel? Are short stories more difficult or easier to write than a novel?

I think each story — whether you are saying or writing it - comes with a predetermined number of words. You can’t make it longer or shorter because an editor says so. Novels and short stories are so different — one is a leisurely telling, the other an urgent whisper. Writing is a complicated joy. There is joy in expressing yourself but then have you expressed yourself well? You have said what you wanted to say but have you said it in the best possible way you can? To some, this can be done only within the framework of a novel; for others, within the pointed location of short fiction. You can read Khaled Hosseini’s  The Kite-Runner as three short stories strung together, and P.D. James’s  The Private Patient, despite being a novel, ends with — to me — almost a short story about love and grief that can even be seen as separate from the rest of the story. I think whether reading or writing, I see only short stories.

Your stories remind me of Katherine Mansfield’s stories. Are there any writers who you really admire, or who have inspired you?

Poetry is much more touching than prose. The connect is immediate; the membrane thinner. And sometimes the crafting — the sheer elimination of the unnecessary — can knock you down. To under-say or not say... such writing cuts though our defences. The unsaid becomes a thing of beauty. Annie Proulx, Anne Enright, Sebastian Barry, Tilman Rammstedt, Anita Brookner — all writing such compelling stuff. 

You said that you didn’t think there was any point in writing anymore. Why do you feel that?

The noise level in the book world is so high, it feels like all of us are talking at once. I am not sure about any medium... Maybe everyone knows everything, nobody needs to read or listen anymore. 

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 1:55:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/an-interview-with-author-of-the-orphanage-for-words-shinie-antony/article7286358.ece

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