Jeery Pinto was one of the few who recently won the Sahitya Akademi Award 2016 for his book Em and the Big Hoom. Here in this interview he talks about his writing
- Would Sahitya Akademi award make any difference to the way you approach your writing?
I’m human. I love getting awards. But I also know better than to believe that an award is a guarantee that you will do another good book. It’s a way of saying: You did a good book. Keep at it. But there are no guarantees. You’re never going to be sure when you’re working with words.
- What according to you is simpler: writing prose or poetry?
When I feel the need to use words, I find that the words themselves have taken on the form that they want to be in. Sometimes, this takes much experimenting. A poem reveals itself as a short story. A non-fiction piece makes itself into a novel. And most often, things fall into silence.
- Do you have a creative process?
I write a lot. I write much more than I need. I leave it alone for a while. I edit when I think I have some distance from the work. I rewrite. I stop when I think that the thing is good enough to bear my name. And then I have an editor in Ravi Singh who does not hesitate to tell me when my work does not live up to his standards. But as for the rest of it, I don’t think there is a process I follow. Read a lot. Write a lot. Wait. Edit. Rewrite.
- Tell us about the collection, A Book of Light: When a Loved One Has a Troubled Mind.
Readings of Em and the Big Hoom, my first novel, began to turn into encounter groups and so a friend of mine suggested I ask the people who were talking about their lives and their experiences, to write these down. I did and soon the nucleus of the book began. I have to thank all those brave people who came out to tell their stories. I often found it heartbreaking to read them but I think the book is warm and full of light because it is so heartbreaking. I think we need more books of light.
- The subject of your first novel paved the way for a new debate on mental ailments in the country. Were you attempting to fill the gap, since the subject remained somewhat unexplored in Indian Literature?
I don’t think I wrote to fill a gap. I wrote this novel because it was the novel that I wanted to write. That it then became a catalyst for conversations about mental health is just one of those lessons that you discover happening along the way.
- Have you had any failures in your writing career?
Oh, dozens of manuscripts. This is an occupational hazard; you cannot know whether you’re writing a good book or a dud when you’re doing it. So you have to plug on and on and keep working at it and when you realise that it’s not working, you have to throw it away and start again.
- And have you ever experienced a writer’s block?
I think I experience writer’s block every day. I get up and think: it’s Christmas so I’ll take a holiday or today it’s raining so I’ll take a break. Then there’s the writer’s block of: I have no idea why I am writing at all or who would want to publish such a book and so on. But what I generally do is to write through it — to write horribly and badly but to write, without conviction, without inspiration, with dead words and clichés but to commit my words to paper, to say: this matters and the only way out through the oasis is through the desert.
- Tell us about your upcoming book, Murder in Mahim.
It’s an angry book, born out of a disgust at our tribalism. I think it’s also a book that has been through six drafts. The rest is for the readers to say.