On His Fictional Writings

Interview by Prof. P Raja
Critics often remark that the first novel of short story writers-turned-novelists reads like a set of short stories merely strung together. But in my opinion your first novel CYCLONES is different. How did you manage it?

Thanks. I am happy if I have been different from others. I did not have to manage anything; the inspiration behind the novel managed it all right.

Your second novel TIGER AT TWILIGHT is only an enlarged version of your novelette of the same title published in ‘The Heritage’. What actually compelled you to enlarge your novelette?

In fact, the novelette was an outline of the projected novel. As you know, The Heritage which I edited, was an attempt at a ‘complete magazine’ – barring film and politics – and we had a book feature in every issue. The first issue had to be the model, demonstrating to our would-be writers the different sections it had. I had to use A Tiger at Twilight on the book feature in its novelette form which I had already prepared years ago.

Are you conscious there will be readers of the novel who have already read your novelette?

Every well known writer’s fiction is first published in magazines, in a condensed manner or as a seriel, before being published as a book. I may not be “well known” in a popular sense of the term. But the law should hold good in my case too.

Was the process of redoing the novelette pleasant or painful?

Creative writing of any kind has always both the aspects to the process. Pleasure at a subtle, more meaningful and lasting level; pain at the surface level, while the exercise is on.

How does the idea of the novel come to you?

Just as the idea of a story comes – through an inspiration. Of course, the formation of a novel in the mind takes a longer time.

Is there much carry over from the experience in your fiction?

Whatever you might have written, you will still feel that you have left out something. This is in keeping with the state of the present stage of humanity. We are growing; we are evolving. We have not come to the ultimate end.

In your short stories you have dealt with a plethora of themes. What themes do you feel rather certain you will not deal with again?

I do not make my themes. They come to me. Whatever will come with a certain force, will oblige me to give it a form. Even when it is the repetition of a theme I have already worked out, there must be another aspect to it which awaits attention.

What do you feel about your other kind of writing – columns, essays, journalism – you have done or doing? How do they stand in relation to your work as a fictionist?

I write features – I was writing a weekly column for The Hindustan Times and now I am writing a fortnightly column for The Hindu – as a man who feels that he has a point of view to present and the editors concerned feel that the point of view is worth carrying. As a columnist, my inspiration is different from my work as a creative writer. There are a number of fine columnists who are not creative writers and a very few creative writers are columnists. A column in a newspaper demands a certain social perspective, an understanding of the issues absolutely current. The presentation is relevant for today. As a creative writer, my presentation is relevant to today and tomorrow – I hope a prolonged tomorrow! However my habit of storytelling is bound to affect – albeit happily—my columns on current issues.

Your novels CYCLONES and A TIGER AT TWILIGHT are quite different from each other, yet each is unique, unlike any other novel of the recent years. Cyclones is an authentic picture of the transitional rural India of the late forties – with the crumbling feudalism, the collapsing colonialism and the metamorphosis of a remote, little village into a thick town. The change that comes in the consciousness of the villagers is an absorbing realism. But what have you tried to show through the protagonist, sudhir?

The spirit of India that is capable of transcending all such changes – if I must be pinned down to defining character.

A TIGER AT TWILIGHT reads like a fairytale whereas every situation, every character in it is entirely credible. What have you tried to achieve in it?

A fusion of the real and the fantastic; resulting in a certain kind of allegory.

Can you now write a story like ‘A Trip into the Jungle’ which A.K.Bir made into a powerful film in Hindi as ‘Aranyaka’ – showing the darkness of man?

No writer can stop at any milestone. I wrote that story at a transitional point in my own quest. I had lost faith in all political and philosophical doctrines, but had not got any alternative faith to support me. A disenchantment with and contempt for man inspired that story. I do not subscribe to that cynicism any more.

What changed your idea of man?

The vision of Sri Aurobindo – telling us that man is a transitional being, capable of transforming himself, albeit with the intervention of a higher power, the supramental. At the moment we are passing through an evolutionary crisis.

So you are no longer a cynic, but an optimist!

Can a writer ever be genuinely a cynic? What for and for whom should he write? Every writer is fundamentally an optimist.

What made you prefer the short story to the other more lucrative genres?

I must say that it is not with deliberations that I have tried my hand in any field of writing. I began with poetry – in my mother tongue, Oriya. Soon my inspiration made me take to short story writing. Poetry and fiction of course, depend on creative inspiration. A feature, a review, a travelogue have their own kind of inspiration too. The feelings behind the two kinds of inspirations are different. Not giving vent to your creative inspiration is like denying yourself a part of your basic personality. The same cannot be said about the other kind of inspiration.

Why I stuck on to fiction –at the moment short story—is, once I began writing in English, I realized that for poetry one’s only trusted medium is one’s mother tongue – the language that is inseparably involved in one’s subconscious. It was not the same thing in regard to prose. One can master enough of another language to write fiction. But however well you master a language you cannot change the texture of your conscious – your dreams, your reveries, the words and sounds associated with the delights of your infancy.

Do you complete your short story in your mind before you start writing? Or do you formulate them as you go along?

The basic story strikes the imagination before I sit down to write. As I write, the details work out. The characters and situations come compellingly with their demands. But here too, much depends on the nature of the story. If it is a satire like ‘Sharma and the Wonderful Lump’ naturally, much of it is thought out before execution. I do not claim an inspiration that borders on the mystic for such stuffs are purpose oriented. But I have also quite a different experience – experience that is close to the inspiration for a poem. For example, once I felt the impulse to write something, an impulse that was as powerful as a gust of wild wind. I was obliged to write on and there it was – a story called ‘The old Folks of the Northern Valley’. The characters, the setting were all unknown to me. They were not Indian. To whatever world they might belong, I am convinced of their authenticity.

How many days it takes for you to finish a short story, including revisions?

The inspiration might be there for a long time, even for years. Writing takes any length of time from one day to one week, depending on the length of the story and the complexity of the situation or characters, as well as the time one can devote to it at a stretch. Revisions might spread over a whole month unless I have a deadline to meet.

Do you invent short stories or discover them?

Do you invent short stories or discover them?

Have you ever struggled to give a satisfactory ending to your short story?

They have been spontaneous. When the theme begins to develop into a plot, the ending comes of its own. Is it O. Henry who said that the end strikes him first and he works on to reach it? Once in a while, that too has been partly the case with me. I say partly because a theme may strike without a ready end, but an end never strikes without the story immediately and spontaneously following it.

Prof Manoj Das for April Conference 2016

About Manoj Das

For thousands of men, women and children of the past two or three generations, Manoj Das has been the very synonym of light and delight, whose writings in Odia and English inspire in his countless readers faith in the purpose of life and also open up concealed horizons of confidence and compassion in humanity a dire need today.