“Everyone underestimates their own life. Funny thing is, in the end, all our stories…they’re the same. In fact, no matter where you go in the world, there is only one important story: of youth, loss and yearning for redemption. So, we tell the same story, over and over. Only the details are different.” — Akarsh quoting his favourite author, Rohinton Mistry
Nadine (in April): Dear WordPress friends, some of you might remember that a while back I became enchanted by fellow blogger Akarsh Jain’s short stories, and asked him, in the comments of this post, if he would answer a few questions. Those few questions turned into a few more questions (and an unfinished meta-nonfiction novella), then a few more questions, finally emailed to Akarsh in February, in the uncharacteristic heat of winter. Then Akarsh sent me his wonderful, generous replies by email, in March, and now, here I am finally formatting them in April. It’s still April after all, though just barely! Yes! And now I’m writing in the cool of spring. The temperature has unseasonably fallen, for us here in France, but not, I’m sure, for those in the luscious tropics of India. Shall we journey there together once again, with our fellow blogger, Akarsh? Here Akarsh reveals his storytelling secrets, giving us that much-coveted rare glimpse into a fiction-writer’s process — particularly the ways in which that fiction intersects with fact. So without further ado… please grab a cub of tea, dear readers, and enjoy the journey.
Nadine (in February, writing from south-central France): The train is lurching back into action! Here we go. :))
Akarsh (in March, writing from south-central India): And I am smiling that we are about to begin.
Nadine: Re: INTRO/SETTING THE SCENE
Thank you, dear Akarsh, for agreeing to this interview with me. Although I’ve only followed your blog for a short time, as a fellow blogger on WordPress, I have become entranced by your most recent stories, which contain evocative imagery, and which feel very true-to-life, although you classify them as fiction. They also take place in your homeland, India, which is a country that has always fascinated me. My dad travelled through there in his youth.
I’ve always loved finding out about individual artists’ creative writing processes and am eager to learn more about yours. To give our readers a bit of background, I’ll mention that you’ve already told me (and readers of your blog, via this Q & A, that you work full-time, or rather much more than full- time, as a software engineer. I read in your mini-bio that you live in Bengaluru, India. In comments on your blog, you’ve written that you “try to pen new stories as and when time permits.”
I am interested in the ways in which landscape, culture and our surroundings affect our creative output. To set the scene for our readers, would you please describe your immediate surroundings, as you experience them here and now; creating for us a multi-sensory understanding?
Akarsh: I am terrible at describing people, Nadine. Perhaps that is the reason why in my stories no one -— including myself -– knows how my characters look like. I might have described one or two characters max, in the stories. I don’t know why but looks tend to take a back seat in the stories as short as mine. That being said the main character/s is/are observant of their surroundings, perhaps more than the other characters around them — as if all of them are the writers, of their own stories, masters of their destinies, all of them observing, sometimes “over-observing” -— if there is such a thing like that -— but never condescendingly so.
Yes, landscape does matter, the setting is very important, even if the character is merely seated and doing nothing but ruminating in the entire story.
In the story Of Sour Relationships and Dirty Tables, the table was mine. The story had born out of my dirty table and the helplessness that I had felt when every time I made my way towards it and came back only after having increased the mess atop it.
The story Of Scaffold and The First Steps has its setting from all around Bengaluru where the construction is always ongoing, and where it seems that only two things in this life are constant – the traffic and the construction.
In the story Of Rats and Awakened Conscience, the rats were from a room I used to live in while I was studying in Indore. I fear rats. A lot. How they ended up providing company to the boy in the room is fictitious. I, for one, am never comforted at the company of the rats and will never be. Since I have never owned any pet the story took a lot more imagination than it’d have taken for a person who had had a pet.
I never write when people are around me. It just doesn’t seem to work for me. For some reasons, I end up becoming more interested in the people than in my characters. I prefer to write in solitude – if not in utter silence, then at least, in the absence of people.
And bam, as I just finished typing the last sentence, my younger sister entered the room and in this writeup asking me the meaning of the word solitude and then answered that herself. My younger siblings have better learning opportunities than I had. Perhaps they’ll be better at the language.
Culture is important, Nadine. For me, as an individual – more as a reader than as a writer — it is the most important aspect of storytelling. Emotions can be – and are – universal, but the cultures are what makes the retelling of these universal emotions possible and interesting. Death itself doesn’t make for a good story, how the dead is bid the final goodbye and how the family deals with the loss, and the rituals that follow are what matter.
Your way of taking care of your children can be – is – very different from that of my mother’s, or from a Nigerian mother for that matter, but is there a child that had ever been loved more by anyone else than their mother, that Love is universal, but it is the culture that teaches these mothers to give that love to their children in accordance to an accepted way.
Nadine: What are you using to write?
Akarsh: I write using my MacBook Air. I bought it for writing. It is light. It is silver. And it has a long battery life. Couldn’t possibly ask for more.
Nadine: What do you see, hear, smell, even taste and/or feel, at this moment? Is there anyone else nearby? What time of day is it? What is the light like, what is the ambient temperature?
Akarsh (this time writing from Indore, his childhood homeland, in north-central India): I don’t know about other writers, but I don’t particularly have a good sense of smell perhaps because I have sinusitis and the nose is almost always blocked. But there are times when just like the ideas, the smells start flowing inside me, filling me with the smell of pickles – as on that day in the airport, and with the reek of the dead rat as in that rented house in Indore.
Right now, I am in my home, sitting atop my grandmother’s bed. There are a few strands of her white hair, here and there, and the smell of the coconut oil she uses on them. She occupies a bed in the hall. The hall is flooded with things – clothes, books, comforters and quilts, and people. It is always flooded with people. We all sleep together in the hall, by using makeshift beds on the floor, my grandmother in her bed, and we on the floor but let me tell you that this is not due to the lack of space, Nadine. My home (my father’s home) has two portions (2 BHK* each, one of which, on the ground floor, has been rented out, we live on the first floor) in addition to an attic having two rooms.
[Nadine’s edit: “2 BHK” is a housing term in India which means a home with two bedrooms, one “hall” (this is not a passageway, but rather what North Americans would call a “living room”), and one kitchen. Source: civilology.com/full-form-of-1bhk-2bhk/]
Akarsh: So, our sleeping like that had then to be attributed to our habits and the fact that my grandmother can’t be left alone now. I am here for two more days and then I return to Bengaluru. She wants me to stay back. She doesn’t say it to me all the time though. I want to stay back as well, but I fear if I’ll ever belong to my home place now, I realize now that I had always been a misfit (more on this, some other time). Sometimes, I think, the place where a person belongs and where his home is in, are two different places, Nadine.
Nadine (in April): How incredibly beautiful that your grandmother is surrounded by her family like this.
Nadine (in February): How are the words flowing onto the page, and with what speed and what level of thought?
Akarsh: I write fast, Nadine, but never frivolously. Words flow fast, when they do. Otherwise it is mostly me, writing in my mind, with my hands on the handle of my bike, and then just like the surrounding changes the thoughts vanish, and that brilliant idea is lost forever. Does this happen to you Nadine? I live in perpetual indignation of my ideas leaving me alone, and then never returning.
Nadine (in April): All the time. It’s the same for me, though it’s usually while walking, driving, or cleaning house. Now I let the ideas disappear… new ones always arise anyway…
Akarsh: And now my grandmother just asked me if I am working for the office? I said No. She asked me to stop playing on the computer and talk with the family members, she means to her. Will write again soon!
Nadine, in April: [hears the birds chirp, sees the sunlight playing on the terrace, thinks on the fact that really perhaps she should be outside, working in the garden, or preparing for the upcoming arrival of her parents… but instead continues to format these questions she wrote in February, and which Akarsh replied to in March… and which she left dangling in an email folder for far too long ever since that time.]
Nadine (in February), Re: LANGUAGE
Readers occasionally leave friendly comments on your blog offering grammatical improvements, and I have noticed that you accept these very graciously. Language is one of my old passions. (Like you, I have a “long- abandoned degree,” however while yours is in Engineering, mine is in Linguistics and in teaching ESL).
Can you tell us what role languages play in your work and personal life? Which language/s is/are your native language(s)? I saw via Wikipedia that official languages of Ashoknagar (where you grew up) are Hindi and Bundelkhandi; the official language of Bengaluru (your current city) is Kannada; while Hindi and English are the official languages of India, although there is no national language because there are so many different ones, plus dialects, and macaronic hybrids such as Hinglish (portmanteau of “Hindi” plus “English”), which uses fluid code-switching and incorporates other Indian languages as well. Is that right? And may I ask, which language(s) were spoken in your household, and at school? In which language(s) do you primary read and write? If it’s not English, why do you choose English for your blog? Also, do you translate to English for publishing on your blog, or do you write for your blog directly in English from the start?
Akarsh (in March): I am humbled, Nadine. So much research has been put on these pages. Let me read the question once again….
The role of the language is primarily the same as it is for everyone – to communicate effectively. But I believe that it goes a few steps further to that for writers – established and aspiring alike for it enriches the meaning and enhances the experience. Yes, a good language is indispensable, and when readers leave friendly comments – as I remember you did once, mentioning that all the places where I had written ‘hairs’ [Nadine’s note: that was in “Of Sour Relationships and Dirty Tables,” linked above] would very well have done with just ‘hair’ – I feel even more wonderful for they have indeed read the story carefully. I know that is selfish.
I love words, and languages, and the meanings they add to our otherwise mundane lives. And I try to improve each time I write something new. I mean that. I really do, it is just that it doesn’t seem to work, and I end up making mistakes. I am still working on my language.
What you have mentioned is correct: I come from a place where both Hindi and Bundelkhandi are spoken languages, my mother was from a Bundelkhandi region (and only a few languages in the world, I am convinced, might be better than Bundelkhandi at the slangs), my father, well, is from a non-Bundelkhandi region. I speak a distorted Hindi, and alas, am not proficient enough to read the Hindi Literature (my loss, some colossal works have been produced by the Hindi writers). Bundelkhandi is a beautiful language to hear, Nadine. Sad as it is, I know none of it, I can only understand it in bits. We speak Hindi at my home. I sing in Hindi, and when I am angry and go at loss of words, I abuse in Hindi. And when I cry, and something comes out of my mouth, it is always in Hindi. Isn’t the language in which a person when emotional talks his only true language, Nadine?
Yes, people born in Karnataka (one of the Indian states) go by the demonym ‘Kannadigas’ and their language is ‘Kannada’. I love everything about this state Nadine, their people, their mannerisms, their love and their ever-embracing nature. If I were not born in Madhya Pradesh (my state), I’d have been a Kannadiga. Sadly, yet again, I know none of this language. We are so bound by the duties here that we just miss on all the fun that learning new languages are. You must make it a point of visiting this state and its attractions, when you happen to visit India.
The best part about any Indian you’ll ever meet Nadine is that they’ll make themselves a part of your life in no time and before you know, we’ll be invited over to your events, eating your food, laughing at your jokes, and making you laugh and astonish at our jokes and our incredible history. The best part – an exclusively Indian trait – is that we welcome all, we make them ours, we learn from them all that we can and then mold those learnings into a form that suits us. Hinglish is just that.
I read in English. I write in English. But I think in Hindi. I hope you can understand that. And perhaps, that is why, sometimes the writing appears to be a work that has been translated from Hindi.
All my degrees have been earned from the institutes that teach in English. I write in English primarily because that has been the medium in which I was taught.
Nadine, Re: FICTION VS NONFICTION
When I asked you in my last email, “Would you classify [your stories] as fiction or non-fiction?” you replied: “They are more of observations than all fictions. But they are not real. So that makes them fiction. A few characters are derived from around, but then they are again molded, and all of this happens unconsciously.” I loved reading this description of the way you think about, classify and create your observation-derived fiction. I will ask a bit more about that in the following questions. :))
Akarsh: Well, thank you, Nadine.
Nadine, Re: THE JOURNEY
Our last exchange, I read another one of your stories, the one called Of Making Babies and Driving Trains… — I found it by typing “trains” into your site-search, because I love train-travel and wondered if you had written about any.
This story is such a beautiful introspective journey of the creative self, and so many people can relate to it: writers, readers, travellers, and any among us who understand the extraordinary within ordinary lives. It was a beautifully crafted story that perfectly used the train and its action (or non-action) as a metaphor for the main character’s creative drive, as well as contemplated the overlap of reality with imagination. I love the theme of the train in writing, and have explored this theme in my own writings. Can you tell us a bit about what personal experiences may have inspired it? What is your own personal history with trains and travel?
For example, in your mini-bio (the one that appears at the end of each post) it says that you are from Ashoknagar, in north-central heartland of India, but now live in the south, in Bengaluru (also called Bangalore). To give our readers some perspective, I looked these up via Wikipedia saw that Ashoknagar has 80 thousand inhabitants and Bengaluru has 10 million inhabitants. I saw on Google Maps that these two cities are 1600 kilometers apart (by road).
Google estimated that the two cities are about 27 hours apart by road, and a minimum of 31 hours by train (in ideal conditions). I know from experience that it would take about 16 hours to drive the same distance in west-coast North America (e.g. Vancouver BC to San Francisco). I list all these details of my Internet perambulations so that I may hereby share with our readers an idea of the possible difference in the concept of time and travel between the western world and the eastern one. Your story shows very clearly that Indian trains do not follow a set schedule.
Can you tell us a bit about your north-to-south journey, and what prompted your move to Bengaluru specifically, if you don’t mind telling the tale? Did you travel by plane, train, or automobile? Which elements of that journey, if any, were incorporated into your train story? The main character’s father, who is referred to as someone who “kills dreams” (although that is quickly retracted by the character later) angrily denigrated reading novels and insisted that his son follow a reliable career path, rather than writing. I think many writers and other artists have heard something like this or felt something like this in their lifetime. In what ways does your character’s experience mirror your own, if you dare to tell? :))
Akarsh: I am humbled, yet again. So much research. Thank you! It becomes so difficult to answer the questions which are so strikingly beautiful as this one, but I must.
To answer this, let us travel back to 2010. I had passed my class 12th from the Madhya Pradesh state board, and it was time I enrolled myself in a decent college. I failed at the two topmost engineering competitive examinations, miserably so, but without any regrets. I had worked hard, prepared well, it just didn’t seem to work; it was perhaps like one of those relationships that are bound to break, no matter what.
I found a decent college in Vellore, a scorching district in the state of Tamil Nadu and reached the Southern part of India which was to become my home, and still happens to be.
Having spent four years in Vellore [a city near Bengaluru, in the south], while I pursued a B.Tech. in Electronics and Communication, in Vellore, I was picked up by one of the MNCs [multinational companies] to work for them day and night alike, which, by the way, I still do.
The journey from Ashoknagar (hereafter referred to as home) to Vellore is around 26 hours, add a delay of 2 hours and it becomes 28 hours.
Train journeys are different, Nadine. In a journey by an airplane, things change so fast, and before you know you are in an altogether different place, seeing people wear different clothes, speaking an entirely different language, and their food smelling entirely different from yours. All of this happens in trains too, but it is slow, you see the variation coming in gradually, like you sense changes in life – yours and in lives of those whom you love. In the trains, landscape changes but never abruptly, people with different languages barge into your compartment but again not altogether, and these gradual changes – that resemble life – is perhaps what spark more ideas in the writers.
This story, ‘Of Making Babies and Driving Trains’, is a work of fiction and perhaps is one of the rare pieces where I hadn’t included any details of anyone I know, including myself. The boy’s father is not my father. I have been lucky enough that my father doesn’t impose things on me, he never did. The character of the boy is in no way a reflection of mine except the fact that I love the book ‘The Little Prince’.
Nadine (in April): Amazing, for I found the train story to be so convincingly real… to me, this is the mark of excellent fiction. You’re inspiring me to try my hand at it.
Nadine (in February): Re: VOICE
Another story I loved was a more recent one called Of a Voice and Faded Songs. I admired the courageous way in which you handled the details. Many stories, for example, leave basic human functions out of the story completely. I love that you not only included these but used them as a vehicle to describe the character’s memory of his grandmother. Was the memory of the grandmother in your story a link to your own beloved grandmother, of whom you spoke in our last Q&A? Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for the voice in this story?
Akarsh: Thank you, Nadine. I am humbled that you liked the story.
You must, when time permits you, revisit this story, for so far as I recall, the main character in the story doesn’t ruminate on his grandmother in this story.
[Nadine’s edit: I have to laugh at myself ruefully here. Too many different snippets of time spent writing the interview… getting completely confused between all the stops, starts, interruptions, restarts… the section I was referring to actually mentions a paternal aunt, not a grandmother, as in this quote: “…his paternal aunt used to castigate him, preventing him from carrying any written material along with him inside the toilet…”]
Akarsh: It was more about the unintentional company that surroundings tend to offer us, without either of us knowing that we are helping the others deal with things, with their lives. You might be good at making funny placards and love to stick them at the walls near your house, in your neighbourhood, and there might be someone else, in the very surrounding who looks forward to your placards. And then one day, you stop putting the placards on the walls… and this story deals with the predicament of the other person after he is devoid of that company.
The story’s inspiration was indeed a voice. And the voice had belonged to a girl just like in the story. So again, only those two elements of the story are real, everything else is fabricated. She had a beautiful voice and she was singing in Hindi and her voice was so melodious that I opened the window facing her side and just stayed on my bed listening to her, didn’t read, didn’t eat, didn’t budge, while she was singing, it was just her voice. It was only a couple of months after this event that I wrote this story.
That being said, it had never occurred to me that that event would one day take a form of a story.
Nadine, Re: FICTIONAL ELEMENTS
How do you choose names for the characters in your stories? (I noticed that each story I’ve read seems to use different character names, though the main character perhaps feels a bit the same. Forgive me if I am wrong.) Also, I noticed that the few stories I have read so far are in the third person, and I think you do this with a lot of skill; in other words, I feel as close to the character as I would reading a first-person narrative. Can you tell us a bit about why you mostly write in the third person?
Akarsh: I understand your concern, and I am elated. Only someone who reads through the different stories carefully and observes the underlying themes can they comprehend that the voice belongs to a single person – someone living a life of his own in and between these blogs. It occurred to me only when I visited the stories again after reading this question, although, I must admit, each story begins afresh — and is never a continued version of the last, and each new story is written with a certain time gap between it and the one that went before it. But somehow by the time one reaches the end of each a voice like the previous prevails.
Names of the characters are some of the very common Indian names, but I ensure not to have my acquaintances’ names as the character’s names for then it becomes very difficult to avoid the non-fiction element entering into the narrative and before I know I start writing about how they actually look, what they actually do, and then my prejudices towards them start kicking in… In that sense, Nadine, fictitious names are vital for a fiction writer, and provides the writer with all the possible space for imagination.
Speaking as a reader, first person narratives are very powerful, very tempting and gripping, and when written with good skills as most good writers do, they make you believe as if the things are happening to you. I am so happy that my third person narrative strikes so honest to you.
I resort to the third-person narrative because it is the only narrative which gives me an equal amount of power over all the characters used in the story. I had attempted, long back, a story in the first-person narrative and had named it “A Man On The Wheels”. I don’t recall writing anything in the first-person narrative since. And there is absolutely no reason for my not doing that. It just is.
Nadine, Re: HUMAN CONDITION & LONELINESS
I loved your two most recent stories, Of Men and Their Ways (parts 1 and 2) which tell of a young man who works as newspaper-delivery boy and a newly-retired older man who receives one of the papers on the young man’s route. Each man brings the other a positive focal point in the day, though neither is fully aware that the positive moment is reciprocated in feeling.
Both stories bring evoke a startlingly clear snapshots of life in India, while highlighting the universal human qualities of loneliness and yearning. The most wonderful thing is that each story presents the tale from a different side; the first, from the young man’s point of view, a man at the beginning of his life; and the second, from the older man’s, nearing the end of his. Their outlooks are poignant, in that there are marked similarities between the two men’s emotional experience of personal suffering in day to day life, further delineating the universality of human condition regardless of age or nationality.
If you don’t mind my asking, can you tell us what details of your own life experience inspired these specific stories? For example, living in a house with many siblings, having a paper route… in other words, divulge to us what you will, please, which aspects of these stories are fact, and which are fiction, so that we may further gain insight into your own fiction-writing process.
Akarsh: There is no real counterpart to the Newspaper delivery boy. He was fictitious. And I’ll be honest, the character of the newly-retired older man was remotely related to my father, who retired just two years back. The retirement ceremony in the story was also from my father’s retirement ceremony.
But, and it is imperative to tell you this here, that the older man’s son in the story is not me. So that is how unconsciously (or consciously, I don’t know) facts and fiction blends together in my bigger fictitious tales.
Sometimes, when too many facts start to pour down on the paper (on the screen) they are erased — not for any sort of fear but for reasons that I still don’t know.
I don’t read newspapers. My father prefers watching the News on the television. Consequently, we don’t get a paper delivered. So, in the story wherein the older man peruses the newspaper daily was contrived again.
I have two sisters, the elder one is now married and lives with her husband and their daughter. The younger one is in college. It is a joint family I have grown up in and together with my cousins we are 6 children who grew up together.
[Nadine’s edit: In the first part of the two-part story, the newspaper boy is the youngest of 6 children.]
Akarsh: I started writing ‘Of Men and Their Ways’ on 15th of January of this year because I had decided that on this birthday I’ll do all that I love doing, and so I had read, and I had written three paragraphs of the story.
Nadine (in April): What a wonderful way to spend a birthday.
Akarsh (in March): To answer the aspect around universality of the story, Rohinton Mistry, my most favourite author, puts it brilliantly, “Everyone underestimates their own life. Funny thing is, in the end, all our stories…they’re the same. In fact, no matter where you go in the world, there is only one important story: of youth, loss and yearning for redemption. So, we tell the same story, over and over. Only the details are different.”
Nadine (in April): I love that you quote your favourite author here, especially since I noticed that your blog was once dedicated to him… and now I have the answer as to what to open this interview piece with. Thank you Akarsh for sharing this beautiful quote with us.
Nadine (in February), Re: WRITING/EDITING PROCESS
You have told us before (in previous parts of this interview) that you have no set writing routine at present, mainly because your day job as a software engineer is taxing, with very long hours above and beyond the standard 9 to 5.
Akarsh: Yes, that is right. I have not any schedule for writing as of now. The job is one pretext, for the main reason is indolence and my inability to manage time efficiently. I used to read a lot, now even that has subsided. I was learning German once, now I am not doing that either, so you see, all ‘good’ projects (pursuits) in my life have now stopped and there is absolutely nothing else than myself who could be blamed for. I am lazy. Period.
Nadine: Can you tell me about your story writing process, in terms of what happens when you do sit down to write?
Akarsh: I don’t know if this happens with you or with other writers Nadine, but I start getting a very strong feeling that a story is now ready to come out, and more often than not this hunch has proved to be correct. It just happens, and then I sit before my Mac and something comes out.
Nadine: Do you plot the story in advance, or just wing it as you go along?
Akarsh: Does it ever work that way Nadine? I mean, are there writers who know/plot the story before they write it? They must be geniuses, I apparently am not. For me, these stories begin with a thought, and then that thought becomes the center of the story, the thought has to find a body for its propagation and that brings forth the central character, the thought has to be listened and responded by a few other characters, and together they all make for the cast of the story.
Nadine (in April): I had to laugh when I read this… I feel the same way. As in, “Do plotters really exist?” To me they are a different species, godlike, incredible… or maybe mythological. I love hearing more about your process, and yet, it almost sounds to me like you are in fact one of these mythological plotting geniuses, for I never even start with a thought… I start with a laptop and a blank page… ok yes I see what you mean, I have a thought, but then I type it, and that typed thought leads to another typed thought… and so on. The only difference is I don’t tend to use multiple story characters, mainly to protect the privacy of others, when writing nonfiction… I must try your method some time. And try writing fiction.
Nadine (in February): Do you usually hit “publish” the same day or let the story “sit” for a while, before posting to your blog?
Akarsh: The earliest blogs on the blog-site were completed in a day, in fact most of them were completed in a single sitting. The stories that I have written lately took some time – some more than the other – some have seen a month or two in the drafts, some were deleted from the drafts and were written again from the scratch. So, Yes and No, sometimes I hit the button immediately, and at others, I let the stories grow by quarantining them for a while.
Nadine (in April): I love it, I feel like we’re in the same boat… isn’t that wonderful about conversing with other writers, what feels so lonesome suddenly becomes so universal.
Nadine (in February), Re: EDITING & ETHICS
Do you edit a lot, and is that before or after you publish online? Have you ever edited afterwards? Why or why not?
Akarsh: I do edit. But not a lot, and that, perhaps explains all the grammatical errors in the stories. I try to be as clear as I can be in the thoughts. Strong believer in the fact that if the readers like the stories they might — will — end up pardoning me for the errors that good editing might have subsided. But this is no excuse, and I pay as much attention as I could to the grammar. The errors that then remain are genuine and are something I don’t catch myself.
I did edit a few grammatical errors that I had committed in a few stories after people suggested them.
Frankly speaking, I feel editing is like drinking water; no matter how much you have either of them there is always some room left for more. And as your father tells you Nadine, ‘Everything in moderation, including moderation.’ I so loved this line when I read your last blog post. [Note: Akarsh is referring to this one.] I’d like to add one more line to that and that’d be ‘Especially the moderation.’ And so, I keep the editing in moderation.
Nadine’s (in April): I have to chuckle here again… especially because my father is coming to visit in just two days. Indeed, from my past experience in publishing online, over the past year, I believe editing above all things should be kept in moderation. My most popular posts have been the least edited ones.
Nadine (in February): Do people you know “in real life” (besides your real-life love, whom you’ve already mentioned in the Q&A as being a supporter of your work) read the stories on your blog? (Parents or siblings, for example?)
If so, does knowing that ever affect the way you write them and/or edit them? I ask because I think it’s something that all writers struggle with: how much to leave in, and how much to leave out. You have helped me see, once again, both through your stories and what little we have chatted about in emails and in the other Q&A post, that the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction are blurred. For me, more than anything, writing creative nonfiction at present, it’s usually a question of ethics. I struggle constantly with decisions of how much to include about others in my stories. I am trying my best to write compassionately, but I also want to ensure the truth is upheld at all costs; all the while knowing that truth is subjective and changes from moment to moment depending on perspective. This creates, shall we say, the need for “a fine balance,” to quote the name of your blog. Can you tell me your thoughts on this topic? How do you, Akarsh, navigate this “fine balance” in your writing? Are you ever afraid that real-life friends or family members will “see themselves” in your “fictional” characters? If so, how do you manage this fear and get past the “blockers” it may sometimes create?
Fiction gives you liberty, and like all other liberties, it comes with a huge responsibility. (— Akarsh Jain.)
Akarsh: A few of them read me; Grishma ensures to read everything I write. Arpit is not much of a reader, or at least doesn’t read my blogs.
My parents (father) don’t read my work, because of the language. It is a very saddening feeling, Nadine. Sometimes it grows on me and I end up feeling so depressed.
I am not particularly good with writing in Hindi. My father doesn’t read, in fact, no one in my family reads. But even if I’d have to get something written by me read by them it would have to be in Hindi.
My siblings read. Their medium of instruction at schools was English just like mine. But they are also not “readers” and read only infrequently.
This question is brilliant in so many senses, perhaps the one of the best questions.
For me, so far, it has been easy as I have already told that I don’t describe people often, I deal with ideas.
But yes, often someone from the real world enters the stories and it becomes impossible to prevent the details from their life from entering the story. Like in “Of Men and Their Ways,” the old man’s character which was derived from my father’s story had then to be changed, in all consciousness, to a person that I no longer identified with my father. And let us assume that you were acquainted with my father and you’d also read the story. After reading it, you’d have told me that Akarsh, this old man in the story is so much like your father and so unlike him in many aspects.
Non-fiction writing can be tricky in that sense, once you tell people that all is true they start looking for resemblances. It all becomes what we used to play and like so much when we were kids, the game of ‘Spot the difference.’ Fiction gives you liberty, and like all other liberties, it comes with a huge responsibility.
I’ll tell you my approach: the moment I start seeing that one person’s personality on the page, I revisit the last few lines that I have already written about them and write them again. And this goes on till all that remains of that person on the page is their silhouette and not their personality. And let us face it, no matter how good we believe ourselves to be at judging people by their personality, we have a really hard time identifying our own silhouettes amidst the many on the ground or on the wall, let alone others’.
Nadine (in April): Thank you so much, Akarsh, for these truly fascinating insights. You have been so generous in sharing them with us. Very true about the difficulty of knowing ourselves, let alone others. And I liked hearing your method of extracting characters while leaving real-life details out. Most of all, I loved your statement about liberty and responsibility.
Nadine (in Feburary), Re: ON BLOGS AND BLOGGING
Okay, easing up into more comfortable territory here, perhaps. :)) I saw that you started this blog in July 2015, is that right? I was having a creative explosion myself at that time. I wrote a lot but didn’t seem able to publish. One reason is that I couldn’t decide which name to use for my blog and my byline. Can you tell us about which influences helped you start your blog (choosing platforms, for example)?
Akarsh: 23rd of March, 5:23 PM, Bengaluru: I am on my chair, on the table in front of me, is my Mac, surrounded by two empty water bottles, 3 Man Booker Winner books, 3 new notebooks, Kindle, 7 pens, and my wrist watch. I am digressing. Let me come back…
Yes Nadine, that is right. Somewhere around in March 2015.
It was Swarnali, as I told in our previous conversation as well, who got me started. I didn’t know of WordPress then, she told me that it had an easy interface and all I really needed to do was write something, everything else will be taken care of, and it turned out to be like that. Ever since the first blog I have not had a single reason to move to some other platform. Although, I did post a few stories, which were already published on WordPress, on Medium.
The way you write now is brilliant. Period. But it’d be amazing if you could, if you still have them with you, publish the older articles, I love reading the initial works by the writers. Aren’t these earliest write-ups closer to our hearts Nadine? No matter how bad the tone or the grammar is. No matter how dull the writeup is.
Nadine (in April): Oh my goodness. Finding this here, now, as I begin formatting our months-old email conversation touches my heart so much. Thank you Akarsh! And yes, I agree, early drafts of any piece of writing are the ones closest to our hearts — from the writing perspective, at least — whether they were written in the distant or near past. And I love seeing the place that any writer has evolved from, when they are brave and selfless enough to reveal that.
Nadine (in February): Your own blog is based on your name. Is this your real name or a pen name, if you don’t mind saying?
Akarsh: I am still struggling with a name for the domain. I leave that to you, if you happen to find a suitable name for my blog, please let me know, and I’ll move the domain to that.
I have always been called Akarsh. I have never thought about having a pen name, although now as I see it, it’d be cool; but, you know what, I’ll just stick to my name.
Nadine (in April): Good choice. I think it’s perfect!
Nadine (in February): What was your original intention with the blog, if you remember it, and how has that evolved over time?
Akarsh: The intent was clear, and is still the same, to establish the connection with the reader. I don’t write to impress, Nadine, I write with an aim to provide a company. And if that company impresses someone, it is a plus to what I really intend to do.
The voice of the blog has changed, I used to write on some state of mind, causes, emotions, and observations from around. Now I tell stories, with all these elements in them. The intent, albeit, has remained the same.
Nadine: Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for readers who may be struggling with how to begin in their own blogging endeavours?
- Read a lot. Period.
- Take breaks between reading and fill those gaps with writing.
- No other advice from me can possibly help you better than the above two.
Nadine (in April): The most essential writing advice; brilliantly put.
Nadine (in February): Re: FUTURE PLANS
Many bloggers dream of one day producing a book. Some bloggers say that books are a dying technology. Can you tell us a bit about your own thoughts and feelings on that topic? If you are planning on writing a book, do you have a particular theme in mind? Do you have anything blocking you from beginning such a project, or, if you have already started, any blockers in finishing?
Akarsh: Books will never die, Nadine. That is one thing that never scares me for I am convinced that books will remain as popular as they are now, as they have always been. Books belong to those who are patient. Just so long we have patient people, we’ll have books.
I too aspire to reach out to people across the globe, and want them to read me, and that, I believe, can only be made possible by publishing a book.
There are no plans just yet. Although there is a long-term plan of writing a book that’ll have a fictitious setting — inclined more towards from where I come, will have elements of Jainism* in it (perhaps), for Jainism despite all the severities, has some good philosophy to offer, and the world needs — deserves — to know more about it.
I am not good at finishing things, Nadine. I start several online courses, but never end up finishing them up. But only when it comes down to writing something with the aim of ever getting published do I realize that I am not particularly good with starting things either. So, with fingers crossed, someday. Perhaps!
Nadine (in April): Well, we are much the same, in that case, at least in terms of starting with the aim of getting published, as well as in terms of finishing things. And yet look at this, which is about to be published… by both of us.
Nadine (in February): DESTINATION REACHED!
Dear Akarsh, this place on my page marks the final stop on this little journey we have taken together, for now at least! Though I certainly hope to travel with you again in future, whether that be in future conversations, reading your upcoming blogged stories, or perhaps carrying your words in the pages of a book as I board a train somewhere foreign land. Thank you so much for your time. It has been an absolute pleasure reading your work and interacting with you online, and I hope our conversations may naturally continue.
Akarsh: It has been one amazing experience. Thank you so much Nadine. For your time, for all your efforts, for these brilliant questions, for finding me worth all of this. For everything.
I too in all earnestness wish to have even more interactions with you, perhaps someday, I’ll learn how to frame such good questions and ask you to answer them. But I am convinced… that they can never be as good as yours.
I am so happy that you said those words, I’d love my book (if it ever comes out) to be read and reviewed by you.
Nadine (in April): Akarsh, you’re too kind, and I will be thrilled — absolutely thrilled! — to lay hands on your book, if/when it comes out.
Thank you for agreeing to take this journey with me. It was a true pleasure.
Akarsh: All the best for your future endeavours. Stay in touch. Love from India…
Nadine: Likewise… love from France. :))
Dear readers, we hope you enjoyed this journey, too. Thank you for reading. ❤︎ Please feel free to add to the conversation and/or share your thoughts in the comments.