An interview, and a talk

I’ve been interviewed on Open Book: Toronto by the wonderful Dorothy Palmer.  Here’s an excerpt:

“After completing my MBA, I worked for a while in large corporations (last with Citigroup), till I started believing I was entitled to do what I really wanted. I wanted to read and to write, and not just on stolen hours on weekends. So I got myself a Masters degree in the arts, and then I started sending out my work.

Clark Blaise says about Indian immigrants to [North] America that material success “has been the easy part. After all, they were programmed to study hard, invest wisely, and live frugally. But that other Constitutional promise, ‘happiness,’ has been elusive.” I’m a product of the Indian upper-middle class that Blaise so astutely portrays, and in some ways, I had to give myself permission to be happy and to believe that things would work out. And you know what? They did. Sure, it’s been a bumpy road–I initially received nothing but rejection from every Canadian publication I approached. (Fortunately my work got picked up in the US, otherwise I might have returned to banking.) I now work as a freelance writer and spend much of my time reading and writing.”

If you feel so inclined, you can read the whole thing here.

***

This weekend, I attended a round table conversation at IFOA on the topic “The Individual in Society”, featuring authors Bharati MukherjeeLauren B. Davis, and Johan Harstad. In essence, the three authors discussed why they (and their characters) chose not to conform, their respective motivations and reasoning, and the consequences of questioning the values of the societies they belonged to. I was (predictably) most interested in hearing Mukherjee–I’ve been reading her since high school, and “The Management of Grief” still tears me up.

I was particularly intrigued by Mukherjee’s response to Harstad mentioning that self-effacement was part of his manifesto of living. Harstad said (I’m paraphrasing liberally here) that he always endeavored to cause the least amount of fuss, to minimize his societal footprint, if you will. For instance, he said that when his flight landed, he always remained seated till the passenger in the aisle seat was ready to disembark. Mukherjee replied that it took a certain confidence to behave in such a manner, and that sometimes, in some societies, the only way to succeed was to claw and grasp at the most fleeting opportunites. Here’s the thing: Harstad is from Norway, while Mukherjee’s protagonist is a girl from small-town India. Pushing and shoving are perhaps both inevitable and necessary in a society featuring scarce resources, one that imposes draconian consequences for bucking tradition. I think a small-town girl would be mincemeat if she chose to be self-effacing rather than brash-bordering-on-selfish.

The tricky part, I suppose,  is recognizing when to abandon that sort of mindset. I think some are so conditioned to having to fight for the least glint of opportunity that twenty years after, they’re still jumping the queue at the $9.99 India Palace lunch buffet despite earning six-figure incomes.

Anyway. After the talk, I briefly met with Mukherjee and asked her to sign my book, and I didn’t have to spell my name out for her. And of course I gushed like an idiot; poise: when will you make my aquaintance?

***

Some of you may have noticed a pleasing symmetry in the above post: Clark Blaise and Bharati Mukherjee are husband and wife. Furthermore, I’ll be hearing Blaise read this Thursday at the Rogers Writer’s Trust  Fiction Prize event.

8 responses to “An interview, and a talk

  1. LOL the India palace lunch buffet thing. Funny thing is I can actually picture myself in both roles (the elbow-the-faceless-crowd-for-survival lady and the one that sits calmly in her seat while the passengers ahead of her disembark) depending on the situation I’m put in. Is adaptability part of the conditioning too, I wonder. Am off to read your interview…

    Hope you’re well!

  2. Thanks for the link to your interview, awesome! Also, great to read your opinions on the talk Saturday.

  3. @GB: Yes, doing well, thanks to mad infusions of Halloween candy! Hope your move went smoothly!

    @Amy: Thanks!

  4. I enjoyed reading your interview…I like the careful choice of ‘nuanced’. Heh.

    And I was at that IFOA session too! I thought it was actually quite a cohesive event and maybe that shouldn’t have surprised me, but sometimes you get the feeling that the group just doesn’t fit very well personality-wise and this one seemed to ease together nicely and the time just flew! Still, the round tables are my favourite events…

  5. Pingback: how can i stop comparing myself to others and how can i handle jealousy? | Stop Jealousy

  6. Nice interview! I also liked to read about the round-the-table discussion. You know what, unlike maybe most people, I have read 2 books by Johan Harstad and none by the other two writers you mention.

    I enjoy his books and I would say I’m more like him (staying seated) than a pusher and shover (I’m from the Netherlands, comparable to Norway).

  7. How interesting that you’d read Harstad–I had never heard of him prior to the talk. Mukherjee is very well-known in Canada for several reasons, some uncomfortable.
    I’m an advocate of no-pushing and queue-forming too –Canada is very like northern Europe in that respect🙂

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