Friday, April 04, 2014

Anees Salim's Interview in The Daily Star


Interview

Under the Mango Tree

Anees Salim is the author of The Vicks Mango Tree (Harper Collins India), Vanity Bagh (Picador India) and Tales from a Vending Machine (Harper Collins India). His fourth novel The Blind Lady's Descendants is expected to be released by Westland Books (India) very soon. This year, he has beaten authors like Manu Joseph and Amandeep Sandhu to walk away with the prestigious “The Hindu Prize for Best Fiction” for his 'dark comic tale' Vanity Bagh. He is an advertising professional and is based in Kochi, India. Here he talks to ABDULLAH KHAN about his books and his life as a writer. 
Anees Salim
Anees Salim
The Star: Anees, congratulations for winning the Hindu Prize for best fiction. How did you react when you got the news? And how important is this prize for you?
Anees Salim: 
Thank you. I watched the live webcast of the ceremony from my cubicle as the office, oblivious to what I was doing, buzzed around me. When the prize was announced I must have exclaimed aloud, because people in the neighbouring cubicles stood up and eyed me suspiciously. This prize is extremely important to me. There is suddenly a fair amount of interest in the book and it has started to reflect on the sales.
The Star: Tell us something about your background. How did you get interested in creative writing? At what age you wrote your first piece of fiction?
Anees Salim:
 I hail from the beach town called Varkala (in Kerala,India), but I live in the port city of Kochi. I started writing when I was about sixteen, and I began with a short story, which I sent to the Illustrated Weekly of India. I was foolishly optimistic about its chances and started planning my literary career around it. The story came back a fortnight later with a stock rejection letter.
The Star: You have published three novels in quick succession. Please share with our readers how was your journey from an aspiring author to a published one?
Anees Salim: 
Yes, three of my books came out in a span of one and a half years. But they were written in different periods of my life. I had great difficulty in getting publishers and agents read my manuscripts. And those who read them were quick to send me carefully worded rejection letters. In the beginning of 2009, a young literary agent picked up one of my manuscripts, and he sold it in a week and then two more in a month.
Under the Mango Tree
The Star: Your books have serious subjects as their themes but your writing carries a comic tone.  How do you manage to do it?
Anees Salim:
 Well, I am told time and again that there is something humorous about my writing. But I don't choose humorous things to write about. My books are about common people and their everyday struggles, about religious intolerance and violence. The comic tone finds its way into my writing no matter how sombre the subject I am dealing with. I can't help it.
The Star: In your prize winning novel Vanity Bagh, you tell your readers that in every city there is a tiny Pakistan? Is 'Pakistan' a metaphor for something? What do you mean by 'tiny Pakistan'?
Anees Salim:
 In most cities around the world, there is a Chinatown, isn't there? Similarly in many Indian cities you will find minority settlements that are branded as Little Pakistan. And the residents of these pockets are often frowned upon, laughed at and believed to be influenced by Pakistani ideas and ideologies. So, it's not metaphorical at all. It's physical and it can be just across the street from where you live.
The Star: Two of your novels are set in a fictional city called 'Mangobagh' but it has striking resemblance with many north Indian cities with sizeable Muslim population. Did you have any city in mind when you thought of Mangobagh?
Anees Salim: 
Mangobagh is a city I carved out of several other cities. In fact I glued together landscapes from cities I like for their history, architecture and ruins. Probably it is the kind of place I want to live in. I think you will find a bit of Delhi, Hyderabad and Lucknow in Mangobagh.
The Star:  You are known for not attending any book launch or lit fest. Why do you do so? Do you think a writer's role as teller of a story ends with the writing of the book?
Anees Salim:
 It is not just book launches or lit fests that I don't attend. I avoid going to gathering of any size and description. Office parties, weddings, get-togethers, workshops, reunions…I stay clear of all of them.
The Star:  How did your occupation as an Adman help you to evolve as a write? Or was it an impediment?
Anees Salim:
 Advertising hasn't had any impact on me as a writer. I would say it has neither helped nor ruined the writer in me.
The Star: What is going to be your next book? Tell us a little bit about it.
Anees Salim: 
The next book is about two boys growing up in my hometown, doing things I did not have a chance to do in my childhood. But it is too early to say if it will develop into a book. 
Published: 12:00 am Friday, April 04, 2014

1 comment:

Asma Khan said...
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