Bombay Showcase

The cow makes the cut

mass appeal:In the days to come, Parashar Kulkarni could well be the guy book-lovers are reading.— Photo: Special arrangement  

Parashar Kulkarni is not a popular name among followers of English Indian literature. Yet in the days to come, he could well be the guy most book-lovers are reading. The transition comes thanks to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for the best piece of unpublished fiction he won recently. He beat nearly 4,000 entries from 47 countries. Kulkarni’s winning piece, Cow and Company , is also his first piece of short fiction writing. Showering praise on the work, Gillian Slovo, chairperson of the judging panel, said, “In Cow and Company , Parashar has conjured up a large cast and their way of life, and at the same time, he has succeeded in exploring serious issues in a way that can make us laugh.”

Incidentally, Kulkarni, who became the first Indian to get the prize, was among the four shortlisted Indian writers, including Kritik Pandey with Dirty White Strings , Sumit Ray with Girdhar’s Mansion and Vinayak Varma with Instant Karma .

Congratulations on becoming the first Indian to win the Commonwealth short story prize. We are told this is the first short story you have ever written. Isn’t it incredible?

I feel encouraged. I have been working on writing for a while and this is the first short piece of fiction that is in the public realm.

How is the prize likely to be helpful in taking the story to untapped territories?

The story is an excerpt from a longer piece. The short fiction did not engage with the broader economic and political context that is more evident in other parts of the longer fiction. I hope to continue working on it.

Detailing seems to be your strength; the way you paint with words, not missing the nuances. How long did it take to arrive at this piece of writing?

I worked on a few drafts. It took about two years.

The jury hailed your book for having “succeeded in exploring serious issues in a way that can make us laugh”. Is humour the same the world over?

Some argue that humour is essentially local. We might laugh at the same thing for different reasons. But then, there are hundreds of jokes which have universal appeal.

What can we expect for short story writing in India following the success of Cow and Company ?

This story is not going to change anything. However, short fiction is popular in India. Children read a lot of short fiction. Short fiction is also popular in Marathi, and other regional languages.

In the age of T-20 cricket, do you think short stories can occupy the reader’s mind? People may not have time for big novels anymore, and short stories may just fill the vacuum?

I am not sure one can compare texts based on volume. For me, short fiction is more experimental, therapeutic and inclusive.

I read somewhere that your interest in literature was generated by default; you were paid for reading the newspaper to your grandfather.

I was asked about my influences. My grandmother taught embossing on metal, she was more creative. I learnt a lot from her. My grandfather worked for the government, then taught law. He was a voracious reader. During his later years, he found it difficult to read fine print and asked me to read the newspaper for him. He paid me a rupee for it, for fun, because as a boy of nine or ten, I wasn’t particularly excited.

At another level, Cow and Company comes at a time when cows are at the centre of Indian politics. It seems we are getting divided into two inaccurate but convenient stereotypes: cow killers and those who kill for cows. Would the story have unfolded differently had it been set in 2016?

The story is set around 1900. The timing is a coincidence. I am hopeful that we, as citizens, will ensure human rights, civil liberties, and distributionally progressive development (health, education, good jobs, etc.).

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 8:41:44 AM |

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