'Writing about my past has given me equilibrium'
Indian-American author Akhil Sharma, whose acclaimed works include books such as Family Life and An Obedient Father, will be speaking at the Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai Litfest, this Saturday. He speaks to Soma Das about his writing choices, the immigrant experience, and his views on Indian diaspora writers
Q. How would you define your style of writing?
A. I write very plainly. What I wish for is for the reader to almost not notice the language and to be lost inside the story and inside the characters. I tend to also rely a lot on humour. This is because I think most people are funny.
Two of Akhil Sharma’s most-acclaimed works
Q. Family remains a key element in all your writing; do you feel the urge to write something totally different from your earlier works? If so, what would it be about?
A. I am writing a collection of short stories, and some of the stories are nothing like what I have ever written before. I do think that for almost everyone, the most important thing is relationships and so, family is a natural subject matter.
Q. What are the challenges you face when writing about family?
A. The challenge in writing about family is how to say something new. Also, situations within families tend to evolve over years and so it is a challenge to make fiction out of situations, which are often diffused.
Akhil Sharma. Author
Q. Is it cathartic to recount painful childhood memories; does it help you come to terms with certain traumatic incidents?
A. Spending a great deal of time thinking about the past can make one angry and confused. Writing about one’s past is different from merely thinking about one’s past because one is forced to take an objective view of things. Bad things happened to me, but bad things happen to many people. Also, bad things happened, but many very good things happened as well. Writing about my past has given me equilibrium.
Q. Could you elaborate about writing on the immigrant experience; what are your views on Indian diaspora writing?
A. Some of the best writing in English over the last 50 years has come from people who were born outside of America, the UK, and Canada. Naipaul and Rushdie are just two of the many extraordinary writers one can list. In some ways, however, the displacement of an immigrant is just an obvious example of the displacement that most people feel. Most people feel uncomfortable regularly. Most people are regularly confused and uncertain. To think about writing as immigrant or non-immigrant is to deny the truth of a shared human experience.
Q. Could you share with us details about the topic you will be speaking on at the festival?
A. I am going to be on a number of panels, and so, I will be speaking about several different things. One will be about how to handle difficulties and still triumph. Another will be about the importance of forgiveness, forgiving others and the self. A third will be about the American dream and how Indians carry their Indian-ness with them wherever they go.
Q. To what do you attribute the popularity of your books to, across audiences, in India and abroad?
A. I write about the interior lives of people. Because I believe that we are all more alike than different. This means that what I write about is universal. This is one reason why I think people find my work important. Another is that I present characters who are funny, tragic, thoughtful, and so there is a lot that is happening at the level of event to interest a reader.
On: November 1, 2 pm to 3 pm;5 pm to 6 pm
At: NCPA, Nariman Point.