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Discover a handle in the ‘mess of ideas’: Githa Hariharan

Fiction writer, recipe essayist and social activist Githa Hariharan is a regular participant at the Goa Arts & Literature Festival. Her book The Thousand Faces of Night won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best First Book in 1993. The Art of Dying; The Ghosts of Vasu Master; When Dreams Travel; In Times of Siege and Fugitive Histories and Almost Home: Cities and Other Places are some of her other  works. This year, she was International Writer in Residence in Singapore. She is also a Visiting Professor at Goa University.

Ambika Kamat – Could you tell us of the ‘creative process’ that occurs while you write a book?

Githa Hariharan – Well, I believe that there is no self-conscious formula that could be labeled as the ‘creative process’ when it comes to writing. I would rather say that it is a common ‘imaginative leap’ that occurs when an author enters the ‘mess of ideas’ and discovers the ‘handle’ in that creative moment. Hard work and to write as often as you can is the key towards a sustained effort in creative writing.

AK –  Do you set or chart out any general themes before starting with a piece of writing?

GH – I think that at the very outset, the theme is actually ‘unknowable’. It is an invisible thread that runs through the initial write-up which a writer senses even before understanding whether a particular piece would be a short story or a novel. To explain with an analogy, the theme is not an embryo but a toddler! Home, freedom are some of the broad themes that run through my latest writing.

AK – According to you what is the relationship between reading and writing? Which authors shaped you during your formative years?

GH – If writing is a fancy meal in a luxury restaurant then reading is staple food to the existence of a writer. What kinds of writing you read might vary with your maturity. For instance one might start with novels as a teenager and gradually move on to non-fiction as an adult. Poetry of course is read by individuals of all age groups alike. As an undergraduate student, Russian and Japanese literature helped me develop a literary sensibility. Reading these literatures gave me the confidence to discover my voice and to do away with the inhibitions created by the pre-dominantly Western White syllabus of my literature course. I love reading Yasunari Kawabata, particularly his ‘palm stories’ the most.

AK – As a writer, do you go through a phase called the ‘mental block’?

GH – Well, no author writes every day. Writing is rather a secretive process. For me, though writing is a difficult and a slow process. It is very addictive. The addiction makes me overcome all the obstacles and continue my literary journey.

AK – What advice would you give to budding writers?

GH – I love interacting with young minds. I would say, Read a lot and continue writing. Do not be in a hurry to get published. The initial unpublished pieces help one find a voice and a direction, in that sense they are essential. Most importantly do not think that the senior writers are the ultimate authorities in the field. Question everything. That’s how you will find your voice.