What Is Important In Fiction Is That It Has Internal Logic: Amandeep Sandhu
Roll of Honour is without doubt one of the best books read and reviewed on The Tales Pensieve so far and a journey into the mind of the wordsmith behind the book was yet another wonderful experience. In again one of the best interviews here, Amandeep Sandhu gets inKonversation about capturing the stories in our lives, peeling yourself to write and some profound wisdom on writing. The last time I enjoyed the answers this much was when Kunal Mukherjee was in the answering seat. Read on, it will be worth your time:
Congratulations on the second consecutive critically acclaimed book Aman. Tell us how did writing happen to you in the first place?
Writing happened to me through a desire to make sense of some of the bizarre parts of my lives. I remember reading comics when I was a child. Once when my parents were fighting, one of the many because my mother was unwell and my father did not know how to handle her, I was hiding behind the sofa in the drawing room. I must be around 5 years old and I remember telling myself that maybe one day I will make a book about these fights and the book will tell me why they happened. It was the same impulse at age 13 when in the military school my whole class was made to crawl on the road and I wondered if a book could explain why the school prefect was so angry that he had to punish us for no fault of ours.
Roll of Honour is gritty and complex. Want to tell the readers about it?
Yes, even my editor said that and put it on the back of the book. But really I am just writing about life as it was in 1984 in a military school in Punjab. I did not create the really gritty and complex things that happened in that time: Operation Blue Star, Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination, riots in parts of India. I did not create the fact that sodomy was a tool for power between senior and junior classes at school. All I did is write a story about a Sikh boy whose loyalties split between his community and his nation.
Your first book Sepia Leaves was part memoir-part fiction. How much of Roll of Honour is real life influenced?
It is hard to pin-point. During the writing of a book a lot of rewriting takes place. In this book around 1500 pages were thrown out to produce these 250 pages. A helpful way of looking at it is that the larger framework is real but the details, the characters, the events are all inspired by reality but cannot be co-related with real people or events. The reason is I have no right to tell someone else’s story expect as how I know it and my knowing could be flawed or biased. However, what is important in fiction is that it has internal logic. In that sense, in the book, reality has been fitted into its representation.
How difficult is it digging into your life, peeping into those complex emotions and writing about it?
It is difficult because I feel our self is like an onion. You feel you have reached the base but then you peel a layer and find something else inside. Another self. So, how much ever you dig you are bound to feel something until you reach a place of silence within yourself. From that silence comes the narrative voice. Once you find it, the story flows. The book was kind of ready in 2007 but then I lost my narrative voice, its tone, its texture. It took me another three years to find it and I was a different person now, a different writer. Once I started writing the novel with the voice which is currently employed, it took me about two years to complete the book. So, yes, over all about five years.
How does it feel when you have dug that deep inside your self?
I actually answered it above but let me answer it again. Roll of Honour and even Sepia Leaves are really about questions of identity and about what is our response to violence in which we find ourselves trapped. All of these issues are basically questions of labels, of how others see you. What do you do when you are traumatised by labels, the world seems difficult to penetrate and your back is against a wall? The only way out is to take that first step. The first step is of faith because it needs a belief that you will not fall down once again, or if you will, you will get up. This step and the journey might seem like courage but really it is just survival. You calm down and start walking and dig deep into yourself you realise that labels are really nothing, that all that there is deep inside you is a silence. Then from that silence may come the urge to say something, to share your story with the world. To penetrate it.
Tell us about one character in Roll of Honour that you relate with the most, emotionally?
It is quite obvious that Appu is closest to the author but really as a writer I understand everyone and find that for the story each character is necessary.
Do you have a writing haven – some corner, anywhere where most of those words come out, where you do most of your writing?
For this book it was always at one place, my desk at my barsati in Delhi next to the terrace where the birds come to feed. I could edit elsewhere but the actual writing came out only here.
You had said sometime back that you write to understand yourself. Has that journey been enlightening or devastating?
I would say it has been fruitful. It has been a good journey and I continue to walk the path. I feel ultimately the only mystery we need to solve is our own selves and what are the barriers in our understanding of our own self.
Tell us about the books and authors that have had profound influence on you.
Too many. Just before I started writing Sepia Leaves I finished reading Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines. For many mornings I woke up with that book’s pages in front of my eyes. The models for Sepia Leaves were Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
For Roll of Honour the models were Kenzaburo Oe’s Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Time of The Hero, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Lorraine Hansberry’s What Use Are Flowers? They were models in the sense that the subjects of these books were close to the subjects of my books, and these writers had pulled them off so wonderfully.
What’s next from you – do you still have demons inside you to weave another story?
At present I have ignorance. Is ignorance also a kind of demon? I guess it is. Let us hold back my views on the next book because I am experimenting with three kinds of books and will take a while to figure out which I should push on with.
Your words of wisdom to newbie writers.
This is very fresh because I was mentioning it to friend just now so I will share it with all: I know each of you wants to write your big story and make an impact but when you have someone around you tell you to take a few months or a year more, please believe the person’s suggestion and follow it. I have often seen a strange anxiety coming upon people. They want to publish quickly. I say, take your time. Work ceaselessly, but take your time.