The first draft was a complete mess
In Mumbai for her book launch, Madhuri Vijay talks about her award-winning debut novel, her writing style, and Kashmir
The Far Field to me reads like a lucid account. Did you have a vision from the start or did it grow organically?
I did not plan the novel in advance. I wrote it scene by scene, trusting that the arc of the story would become clearer as I progressed. As you can imagine, the first draft was a complete mess, full of characters that disappeared midway and conversations that had no precedent in the text, and it required many subsequent drafts to give the book any semblance of coherence.
Having won the Pushcart Prize, you're now longlisted for the JCB Prize for literature. I gather that you faced some challenges with Indian publishers. What were some of your thoughts on learning you made the longlist?
It's always gratifying to be recognized in any way, and I am thrilled to be on the longlist with writers I respect. As for the challenges, I see them ultimately, as a form of good fortune, because the result was that I landed up with HarperCollins, who have been nothing short of wonderful to work with.
You grew up in Bengaluru, worked in Kashmir for a while and now live in the United States. Have these different geographies impacted your style of writing?
That's an excellent question, one that I ask myself frequently. I haven't been able to come up with an answer, and I suspect I will only much later be able to see the particular effects of these landscapes on my work. For now, the thing I'm certain of is that living in so many places has made me far more sensitive to my surroundings, and that is a useful quality for a writer.
What do you make of the current discourse around the Valley?
Everyone these days seems to have vociferous opinions on the so-called "Kashmir issue," especially those who do not live there, but few seem to remember that when we toss around that phrase, we are talking first and foremost about people. We are not talking about political constructs or historical abstractions, but about families and babies and students and the elderly and the sick. Remembering this is the only way to give discussions around Kashmir their proper weight and seriousness.
Is this your first trip to Mumbai? What are your impressions of this city?
This is my second trip to Mumbai, and it will take many more before I'm able to come to any definition of the city beyond the usual clichés. From this trip, however, I'll carry home a small, silly detail: the way that taxi drivers jerk their chins ever so subtly to tell you to get in. The first few times, I was utterly confused, because I thought they were saying no, but now I find it quite charming.
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