Millennium Post

Of lost men and cityscapes

Calcutta is almost a character in your book. Tell us about your Calcutta connect.

I was born in Calcutta, and mostly grew up there, apart from some years in Mumbai. Even now, my parents and most of my family live there, and Calcutta is the city I think of as my home in India. So yes, Calcutta, its changes, its past and present, are a constant part of my thoughts and emotions, and the city is a setting for many of my stories.

Along those lines - please tell us a bit about your childhood. Where did the writer in you come to life?

The reader in me was alive long before the writer, from early childhood. The wish to devote myself to writing fiction arose when I was 18. But it would be another six years of studying literature, reading voraciously, and observing my life and the world around me with the wish to one day make stories out of this material, before I wrote anything that I published, or even showed to other people.

How did Lost Men take shape? Was it a particular incident, a turn of events or mere ideas that culminated into stories?

I had written an early draft of the novella Down to Experience some years ago. Over the years, I'd also written three or four short stories for publication in various places alongside my novels. After I moved to New Zealand in 2010, I found myself writing short stories quite regularly, perhaps because it was too great a life-adjustment for me to fall immediately into writing a new novel, and gradually I realised I had enough for a collection. At a certain moment, I also noticed this theme running through the stories of boys or men who are 'lost' in various ways; hence the title.

Tell us a bit about the male characters in Lost Men. Does any of them (or all of them) have anything in common with you and your life?

Perhaps to varying degrees. Some not at all - their life circumstances are completely different, and entirely imagined. In other cases, there’s the road-not-taken scenario, where I explore what might have happened if a character follows a series of paths that I didn’t follow, upon arriving at a similar juncture. Over and above that, I think one thing that most of my principal characters have in common with me is that they find many things in their own lives to be quite mysterious, strange. They find what should be familiar unfamiliar. And I try to convey that feeling, of how characters think, feel and react when life befalls them as a series of strange paths, with unpredictable encounters and events, with all its potential for sadness, disorientation and shock, but also serendipity, adventure, mystery and charm.

Is there a train of thought that runs through all your books? Alternately, is it possible to have a single train of thought that runs through multiple works?

I feel the books are different from another in many ways, but if pressed, I'd repeat the last few sentences of my response to the previous question.

For anyone who writes, how can one story develop into a larger body of work?

Keep looking as you live, and keep noting down what you see, around you, within you, and in as much good art as you have time to discover. Keep thinking about what moves you, or interests you, and how you can explore those things and make connections between them. Go where strong emotion leads you, but take your mind with you. And the more art you discover at the same time, the more of an inner archive you’ll be creating, that will give you ideas and strategies for tackling your most significant experiences with truthfulness and beauty when you sit down to write. I often feel that for each of us, our own work emerges at the intersection of our aesthetic awareness and our life awareness, at any given point. So live as richly and attentively as you read.

(In my opinion) All the characters in the book seem to be 'victims'(perhaps too strong a word) of circumstances. Is that how life is or is it just a tenor of the book?

I don’t know if I think of them as 'victims'. What I try to do is to observe how my characters react when life around them is particularly challenging, when the current is strong, or events happen rapidly and demand adequate responses if the characters are not to drown. I like to see my characters reacting to life on the wing, or while caught up in its full flow, and I like to show how this feels to them. I myself never know until I've written the story who will come out of the adventure in what way, which characters will have enjoyed themselves and expanded along the way, and who would have  broken or reduced.

What are you working on next and when do we get to read that?

I'm working on a few different things at the moment. I've just begun a new novel set mostly in Edinburgh and London, with a background in Calcutta, while also collaborating with a close friend on a couple of screenplays based on two of my earlier books, Shadow Play and Balloonists. Once the screenplays are off my desk, I’ll return to the novel full-time.
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