A new collection of short stories, and the sensitive author behind it
If you like short stories from a milieu that feels oddly familiar and lived in, then you will enjoy Anu Singh Choudhary’s Neela Scarf. Anu- a documentarian and noted Hindi journalist- writes about people you know with an uncommon perception. More importantly, she brings Hindi Literature to your bed stand by writing about the contemporary world in a language you speak every day instead of the one you begrudgingly struggled through in school.
One of my biggest personal worries is losing touch with the literature of a language that I first learnt to read, write and speak in. And work like Anu’s goes a long way in enabling a new generation of metro readers to read in a language they otherwise hesitate to.
I spoke to her on mail earlier this week, and fresh back from the Jaipur Literary Festival, this is what she had to say.
Anu, when did you first know that you had a book inside your head? And did you always know that the book was going to be in Hindi?
Although I always wanted to write that ‘one’ book someday, I wasn’t sure whether it would be a collection of short stories or a novel. I wrote some short stories over a period of 5-6 years, while others were just lying unpublished as drafts. This book in some ways felt like winding up a task from a check-list. It also helped clear way for other things I wanted to bring out of my system – more stories, more ideas. And how could I move on to anything new if I hadn’t finished this one task? This urge to get all of those stories out of my head, and from my drafts folder, came to me sometime early last year. Since I have always (or mostly) written in Hindi since my childhood, the book obviously had to be in Hindi. Having said that, I would like to translate some of these stories in English as well. Maybe someday…
Who are some of your favourite writers and what are some of your favourite books?
I consume a lot of travel writings. And memoirs. Biographies and autobiographies too. Some of my absolute all time favourites are: Volga Se Ganga (Rahul Santkrityayan), Nadi ke Dweep (Sachidanand Vatsyayan ‘Ageyay), Falling Off the Map (Pico Iyer) and Maila Aanchal (Phanishwarnath Renu). Other than Premchand, Rangeya Raghav is my favourite novelist in Hindi. I grew up reading Mahadevi Verma‘s memoirs, and poems. Sharad Joshi, Manohar Shyam Joshi and Harishankar Parsayi are my favourite satirists. Shivani is another writer I admire a lot because of her mass appeal. Gulzaar Saab is my favourite too, I don’t even need to explain why. But this list barely begins to be a good representation of my favourite writers and books, a list that could just go on and on.
Also Read: MBRB’s Bhasha Reading List
If there was one Hindi writer that you wished was more accessible in translation, who would it be?
That would have to be Manohar Shyam Joshi. Joshi ji is one prolific writer who wrote for almost all possible mediums, and in all possible formats. His writings range from love stories to political satires to family dramas, and capture the lives and times of the great Indian middle class very well. I really feel he should be translated more and more, because his writings are also an authentic, and witty, documentation of our times.
Could you tell us a little bit more Hind Yugm, your publisher? It is very exciting to have a new-age publisher who is giving emphasis to the digital format. How has your experience with them been?
Hind Yugm is run by Shailesh Bharatwasi, a software engineer by training, who is extremely passionate about language and literature. He is young, and is willing to take risks. He is even willing to experiment with content and keeps himself updated on what is appealing to the readers young and old. I have worked very closely with him on the book, and it has been a great journey so far as a writer-publisher team.
A huge part of being a writer these days is maintaining a social media presence and attending literary festivals and events. What have you enjoyed (and not liked so much) about the process?
There is no such thumb rule. You can choose to be a reclusive writer if you wish. In my case, I found my readers through social media. Therefore I personally attach a lot of value to it. Literary festivals and events help you connect directly with other far better, far more experienced writers. They expand your horizon. They make you aware of what is being written all around you. I somehow can’t stay in a cocoon just because I am writing. I need to step out, interact, meet people in order to stay inspired. But an overdose of anything is bad. So you must find your balance. Withdraw into your cocoon as soon as you notice that the number of pages you are writing is actually far less than the number of people you are meeting. That’s your warning sign!
You’ve been a story teller in so many different media- as a writer of documentaries, on television, on the radio and in your books. Which one is your favourite and why?
Actually I am yet to tell a story in another format – a full length feature film! The day I have done that, I will tell you which one is my favourite, and why.
In Neela Scarf, every story touched the life experiences of a woman from a different background. Were the stories inspired by the women around you?
We are all a sum total of our own experiences, and so is ‘Neela Scarf’. The book is clearly a sneak peek into several places and worlds I have lived in, and several characters I have seen around me. So, if there is a village and transition from village to city in a couple of stories, there is a small town too. And then there are characters from a metropolitan cities whose lives revolve around proposals and break-ups. They are the kind of women you and I are. They are the kind of women we see everyday around us.
Who are some of your greatest inspirations?
My grandfather – my Baba – is my greatest inspiration. He had great work ethics, and delivered what he committed. I am yet to meet anyone half as disciplined and hard-working as he was. On an average he worked for 14-15 hours a day, seven days a week, almost 350 days in an year. And yet he never missed a birthday, or a wedding, or a social gathering, or a picnic. He was generous, and he was extremely wise. And he was so much fun! In general, he was this quintessential human being we are often taught to emulate. I wish I can be half as competent, and contented as him in this one lifetime, and half as successful.
Finally, we’d love to know more about your next work, Mamma ki Diary. What can you tell us about it?
It is a memoir written by a mother about her own motherhood, and about other mothers she interacted with (and learnt from) in the process. It has anecdotes, and it has stories. It also has some insights on parenting. But above all, it has some uncomfortable questions too. I have done several drafts of the book, ands still haven’t felt comfortable enough to detach myself completely from the diary and let it go to others for them to read and react. All I can say is, it will be an honest account of a mother, and you will either hate it or you will love it. There can’t be anything in between.
Lastly, because we are hopeless pop culture nerds, what are some of your recommendations from the year that have gone by- Books, movies, music that we need to try out right now!
From the year gone by, here are some of my recommendations from what I enjoyed in 2014 (Just google for more info).
Books: Darra Darra Himalaya (Travelogue), Dalaal ki Beewi (Novel), Dhoop ke Aayine Mein (Short stories), Kulfi and Cappuccino (Novella), Namak Swadanusar (Short stories), Rainsong (Short Stories), And Then One Day (Autobiography),
Movies: Kaphal (Hindi), Un Samayal Arayil (Tamil) – I discovered both these films purely by chance, and absolutely loved them!!!
Music: Yaaram (From the Film ‘Ek thi Daayan’); Sooha Saha (‘Highway); Taanke Jhaanke and Kinaare (‘Queen’); Jagaave Saari Raina (Dedh Ishqiya); Kanpoora (‘Katiyabaaz); Aao Na (Haider); Revolver Rani’s title song (my absolute favourite!) and this one song from a film called ‘Youngistaan’ - Suno na Sangemarmar (It didn’t deserve an Oscar nomination but it deserves to be heard in a loop)
Thank you so much for talking to us Anu. You’ve given us so many suggestions to add to our to-be-read list, that we can’t help feel that 2015 will be the year we rediscover Hindi Literature. We wish you all the best with Mamma ki Diary, and can’t wait to read (and debate) it soon!