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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Annie Zaidi Interview: I feel satisfied when a stranger writes to me to say she/he likes my work

Which book/books inspired you to become a writer?

I don't recall any particular books making me want to become a writer. I was just an avid reader who started writing in college (mostly as a form of venting) and after a few years, when I had enough material that seemed ready to publish, I began to think of putting together a manuscript.

When you look back what gave you pride and satisfaction as a writer?

I feel most satisfied when a complete stranger writes to me to say she/he likes my work.

What led to the publication of the Known Turf?

My blog (which drew heavily on my reportage for Frontline magazine at the time) caught the eye of an editor at Tranquebar. She wanted a (non-fiction) book that would reflect my blogging voice. So I got signed up.

Describe your creative process?

I am not sure I have a definite creative process. I write poetry and fiction and scripts as well as non-fiction, so the process has to be different for each genre. But for all genres, I draw heavily on what I see and the people I meet. I usually begin with just describing what I have witnessed or heard and then allow the rest to follow. I draft and redraft, edit and then edit some more.

Annie Zaidi non-fiction book "Known Turf" has recently been published by Tranquebar to public acclaim.
What is poetry according to you?

A collision of image, narrative and metaphor. Imagine a beast made of these three parts and imagine it riding a roller-coaster of emotion. That's something like poetry.

You published a book of poems. What’s your advice to unpublished poets?

Don't get your hopes up. Don't worry about being unpublished. Publishing is often an accident.  And poetry doesn't usually pay, so don't worry about where you're getting published. Submit to many different journals. Listen to feedback from peers or mentors. Keep honing your craft. When you get good, you'll get noticed.

Do you think poetry is a dying art? What can be done to revive it?

I don't think it is a dying art. It is an art in transition. It is seeking new platforms, new cousins, new costumes, new homes. The market for poetry is suffering though. Far too many people write poetry and far too few read any. Most people who want to get poems published don't even bother to read famous dead poets, let alone their contemporaries. The crisis is as much of quality as quantity.

One way to revive it would be to make poetry books available cheaper. Actually, just 'available' would be an improvement. Most stores squeeze all the poetry in the world into one tiny shelf, and seventy percent of those books will turn out to be Tagore or Pablo Neruda.

It would help to have live, read-aloud sessions in schools and colleges.

Do you think materialism and craze for money is killing art?

I don't know. The answer to that would depend on what you call art, and how you define materialism. Buying paintings as a financial investment is a kind of materialism. It feeds some living artists. And I don't know if that makes the work more or less artistic.

Non-functional, non-decorative arts have never had it easy in any era. I don't know if they are being killed in a special way in our times. The next generation might have a better perspective on this.

Do you think India is a secular country?

No. At the very least, a secular country should have the courage to divorce state policies and laws from religion at all levels. Religion permeates our administration, our legislation, the use of public resources etc.

You have done a bit of relocating to different cities. How do you compare Delhi and Bombay?

I will probably get into fights because of this question. I don't want to compare the people or their attributes. But in my experience, I think Delhi is a little more livable, especially for writers who don't have much money. The city allows you tiny patches of refuge and aesthetic relief.

Bombay's materialism is of a peculiar, grinding kind. It lets you survive, but it extracts a high price. Particularly for writers. Besides, whatever infrastructural advantages the city had in the past are well and truly in the past. All new 'development' seems geared toward the elite in this city.

Also, the golgappas in Delhi are better. And the sweets. And the fruit.

What’s your experience as a blogger? When you write you write detailed blog posts with a lot of research, how do you find time, resources for all that?

Most of my research is done for magazines or newspaper articles. I use the same research for the pieces I publish on my blog. I managed to find the time to blog between assignments.

Has blogging helped in your writing career?


You are an editor of Caferati. What’s the future of Caferati?

God knows. Caferati is a forum, a network of writers. So its future depends on how much time, energy, skill and trust its members can invest in the forum. 

Anything other than the above you would like to share?

Not really. Just that I cannot overstate the importance of editing for a writer.

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