Of relationships, secrets, and untold emotions, an interview with debutant author Madhuri Vijay

Debutant author Madhuri Vijay

BENGALURU: Debutant author Madhuri Vijay read constantly as a child. All the books she lived on, inspired her to become a writer.

She penned down stories all through school and had her first poem published in a newspaper at the age of 12 or 13. Her first serious story titled Lorry Raja was published when she was 24 years old.

She grew up in Bengaluru and attended Frank Anthony Public School. Then, she moved to the US and got a BA from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, and an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City, Iowa.

She’s based in the US and devotes a lot of time to writing, but also teaches at a small school — mostly English and writing-related subjects. She talks about her latest book The Far Field.

Excerpts from the interview:

Why did you choose a serious storyline for a debut novel?

Writing this novel was one of the most difficult things I have attempted to do in my life.

The way I saw it was that if I was going to devote several years to a single project, I atleast wanted to be sure it was a serious endeavour.

I would never have put that much of my time into something I believed to be trivial or bland, regardless of whether it was a debut or not.

Kashmir has mostly been pictured in a bad light for its political tensions. How do you think you’ve portrayed it differently and what did you decide to focus on?

The Kashmir sections of my novel are set in a very different location from most books I’ve read set in J&K.

Those books usually take place in and around the fabled Valley of Kashmir, but I chose to base mine in the Pahari (Doda and Kishtwar) region, which, even within the landscape of the state, goes overlooked.

I wanted to examine the enormous distance — literal and metaphorical — between the northern and southern ends of our country, which is why the other half of the novel is set in Bengaluru.

In some small, and likely wishful way, I felt like I was treading new ground by juxtaposing these two widely disparate places that belong to the same nation.

Was penning this book a catharsis on its own for you personally? 

It was a catharsis only in that I had been living with these characters for so long, it was a relief to finally get them down on paper, and so, in a sense, be rid of them.

But my feelings about the novel are far too convoluted for me to reduce them to mere catharsis. There’s regret, fear, euphoria, sadness, and a host of other emotions.

What were the challenges you encountered while writing this book? 

Midway through the first draft, I showed the manuscript to a teacher, who told me it was no good and that I should re-start.

Perhaps he didn’t say it quite so harshly, but it certainly felt harsh to me. I went home and thought for a long time about what he’d said, then I compared it to the faith I had in the novel.

In the end, I decided that my faith outweighed his criticism, and I continued writing. Looking back, that could have been the moment when the novel died. I’m glad it wasn’t.

What books do you enjoy reading? Do you have a favourite author?

The books I love are the ones in which I can sense that the author is risking some part of his or her soul in the writing.

This quality is not something I could easily measure, but I recognise it when I’m reading. Some of the authors in whom I recognise it most strongly are Vikram Chandra, Anita Desai, Perumal Murugan, Alice Munro, Arundhati Roy, JM Coetzee, Jose Saramago, Garth Greenwell, Herta Muller and Alexander Maksik.

Are there more genres that you’d like to explore?

My goal is to write books full of strange, complicated and difficult people. As long as I can do that, I’m happy.

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