Where did the germ of this book emerge? Was there a trigger point or a thought that made this book take shape and form eventually?
Actually, it emerged from a little short story I was writing during the last year of my college. I had planned to write a story about a young guy called Pablo, who would go to attend his aunt's wedding in 2002 and fall in love. But I wanted some obstacles in front of him. Hence, I had to create the social and political duress under which Pablo's first love blossoms. When I wrote about twenty pages, more characters and subplots emerged. I realized it would become a novel. So I wrote down the last chapter and set out to write the rest.
Post your stint in the US, you have traversed two continents where different thought processes and diverse cultures are omnipresent, how were you able to tell Pablo's story to a universal audience - more so that it is set in India's Northeast?
Thanks, that is a very lovely comment. Actually the trick is to tell a very specific tale without worrying at all about its possible universal appeal. I am sure Woolf didn't worry about it, nor did Premchand or Tagore. If I tried to write something universal, I would end up writing water. I look at the world through an Assamese lens, and I can't change that, because that is just the way I am. There are passages in the book where I have borrowed metaphors from Assamese folk songs and only a very sensitive reader, who has deep knowledge of Assamese culture, would be able to identify it. What I mean to say is that the book is very specific and that's because all the books that have inspired me, are very specific and yet universal.
The book talks of modernity and tradition and the many layers in between; what is it that you feel, the reader will take away the most from it?
I think different readers will take away different things from it. I believe some readers will feel sad, while others will be happy. Some may think it is a love story, while others will think it is a story about political repression or human rights violations. For me, the book is about love and fear. There are three parallel love stories progressing in very intricate ways in the novel and I think it is really amazing that these characters dared to fall in love, amid so much cruelty.
The House with a Thousand Stories, Aruni Kashyap, Penguin, Rs 399. Available at leading bookstores