''Reclusive' is a label strung around my neck'
Author Cyrus Mistry tells Kareena N Gianani that he isn’t misanthropic, as the media makes him out to be. The “true-blooded Parsi” says he likes to write novels which have a universal appeal and the capacity to disturb and alter the readers’ world-view
It is known that you prefer solitude — has winning the 2014 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature intruded upon that in any way? And what are the positive aspects of winning such a prize which stand out for you?
The positive aspects of winning the DSC prize could well be far-reaching. For years, only a relatively small group of friends and fans have kept up with everything I’ve written. My own output has suffered at times from having to work at other part-time jobs… So far there’s been only this one edition of Chronicle of A Corpse Bearer. And only one translation of the novel, into Italian, published by Metropoli d’Asia, who also translated my first novel. I hope that all the publicity this prize has given my book will ensure other editions and translations into other languages.
‘Reclusive, reticent’ is one of those catch-phrases journalists have snapped up and strung around my neck. It makes me sound much more misanthropic than I actually am. I love people. I love being with friends. I just don’t enjoy being with them at large and loud parties — any more. Bombay was a lovely place to grow up in during the ’60s and ’70’s. Now it’s one wild party that has grown too large and chaotic for me. I prefer to live in Kodaikanal whenever I can be away.
Author Cyrus Mistry. Pic Courtesy/Judy Misquitta
Why did you choose to write the Chronicle of A Corpse Bearer? Which themes and issues (in and outside of the Parsi community) did you wish you bring out through your writing?
Believe me, as a writer of fiction, I’m not at all interested in addressing or exploring ‘themes and issues’, particularly ones pertaining to my own miniscule though illustrious community. Or for that matter, even so-called ‘global themes’. Fiction is about telling a story, and telling it well. The process of writing has its own logic, its own dynamic, its own inevitabilities. One sentence leads to the next, one paragraph demands the next, and so on. This, for me — when it’s going right — is the most exhilarating thing about writing. If in the process of telling this particular story about a Parsi corpse bearer — essentially a love story, in fact — I have touched upon certain ‘themes and issues’ that have preoccupied Parsi discourse in recent times, that is essentially incidental, and secondary to the novel itself.
As a Parsi and a novelist, which issues preoccupy you the most about the community today? And how have they changed or deepened over the years?
I am a true-blooded Parsi in most senses of the word, and proud to be one. Though I have often written about characters who are Parsi, I hope that in every instance, in my stories, novels, plays, I am able to touch a chord of universality, so to speak, that can be related to and enjoyed by non-Parsis just as much. I believe a story, a play or a novel should be moving. It should disturb and, even for the briefest moment, alter the reader or the watcher’s world-view.
How different are playwriting and writing a novel? Do you miss writing plays, or do novels satisfy you as a writer now?
These are two different forms of writing. No doubt one can apply something one learns while writing a play — such as how to heighten a dramatic moment of climax — to a novel with good effect, but really, they are different genres. I look forward to completing an unfinished play, as well as to writing new ones. For a long time, I felt I didn’t know how to write a novel. Then I wrote my first novel, then another… Now I feel comfortable with both forms.
Which authors do you enjoy reading the most, and why? Are there books you go back to frequently?
Like many people, I have been reading books all my life. I probably haven’t retained a lot from all that I’ve read. Yet some books make an impact that’s indelible, and one feels the need to revisit these authors repeatedly at various phases during one’s life. For me, the great writers, worth re-reading, are the classics. Particularly, I am drawn to the Russian classics, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and certain English writers of the last century, whose precision and economy of thought and expression can be totally compelling.
What are you currently working on, and what will your next book be about?
I have a manuscript of my selected short stories, which I hope will be out soon. Then there are the plays; after I finish the incomplete one, I hope to bring out in a single volume. In the meanwhile — anyway publishers take so very long bringing out books — I hope another novel, too, will take shape inside me.