NAW Interview with Abha Iyengar

Abha IyengarAbha Iyengar is an internationally published freelance writer and poet. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, magazines and literary journals, both in print and online. She is a Kota Press Poetry Anthology contest winner. Her story, ‘The High Stool’ was nominated for the Story South Million Writers Award. Contact her here.

NAW- How long have you been writing? What made you decide that you wanted to become a writer?

On September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers fell, I wrote my first story for an online writing competition. This kind of market was non-existent in India then. The story was accepted and published. Before this time, off-line, I had published some poems in Femina, won a Haiku writing competition, but I was not very encouraged by the desultory response of the Indian magazines.

However, foreign literary journals snapped up my writing, and for this I thank the internet, global connectivity, and the international editors who saw value in my work.

Cover page -Shrayan by Abha IyengarNAW- Tell us about your book, “Shrayan.” What is it about? How did you get the idea for the book?

First of all, I would like to say that Shrayan is not a novel where you will find your stereotypical hero. Shrayan is drawn from the underbelly of human emotions, the darker, suppressed side of humanity; the part which we have to learn to control and deny and yet, sometimes succumb to, despite ourselves.

Shrayan is a story is about an individual’s quest for acceptance in an unfamiliar and unforgiving world. In his quest for his self, Shrayan discovers aspects of his personality that he did not know existed, and also learns to come to terms with what he is and deal with the challenges that life throws up for him as he knows best. Love is difficult to find and hold, friendship has different meanings, and trying to fit into a world concept is neither possible not required, these are some of the things he learns.

According to Shail Raghuvanshi, who reviewed my book, ‘Shrayan’ is a revelation of what humanity has become and how it must rise from the mess it has created itself.’

Coming to the second part of your question, I wished to write a novel set in a strange, other world. Then I thought why not make our world strange and other to someone who lands here for the first time, who is an orphan from another world. That is how it all began.

Shrayan is my first novel, and is so very close to my heart.

NAW- How did you come up with the title? How long did it take to finish the book?

The title came up on its own. I think the subconscious was thinking of someone looking for shelter, or a home, (‘aashray’ in Hindi), and so up popped the protagonist’s name, ‘Shrayan’. Once I had the name, I loved it.

The germ of the book was born sometime in 2009, when I was fresh from a Speculative Fiction writing workshop in Kanpur, and was ‘convinced’ by my mentors that I needed to write a novel. I began writing the story sometime in 2009. I wrote a great part of it during my Sangam Residency in December 2009. The book was published in December 2012.

NAW- Tell us about your other works.

I have a published collection of poems, titled ‘Yearnings’ (Serene Woods). This is a selection of poems that deals with love and longing.

I have a published collection of flash fiction, titled ‘Flash Bites’ (Author’s Press). This is a selection of my flash fiction. Flash fiction is writing that tells a story in less than a thousand words. It is my favourite form of writing, and in India, I am among the fore-runners of this genre.

NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?

I read a lot. I dream a lot. I surf the net, it is great source of knowledge and information for me. I edit fiction and non-fiction manuscripts. I hold creative writing workshops. I take photographs, the on-the-go-and-click type of photos. Then of course there is walking, some cooking, and the spending of time with family and a few close friends.

NAW- What are you reading right now?

I just finished reading, ‘The Hours’ by Michael Cunningham. I am blown away by his writing. What I have taken away from his writing is mainly his eye for detail, and how he uses this ability to draws the reader into the world he is creating.

I have begun reading ‘Dream of Ding Village’ by Yan Lianke and am again enthralled by the writing. It is the portrayal of a small Chinese village and how rampant blood selling leads to its ‘death’. The language is wise, poetic, and makes your heart sink slowly.

Just before ‘The Hours’, I read ‘The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey’ by Hansda Sowendra Shekhar. Another original piece of work.

NAW- Please name your favourite authors.

There are so many authors whose work I enjoy. Harper Lee, Leon Uris, Neil Gaiman, Haruki Murakami, Khaled Hosseini, Amy Tan, Borges…the list is endless.

I would like to say here that for me, The Mahabharta is unparalleled in its understanding of human behaviour on both the personal and political fronts. It is rooted in reality, yet full of fantasy and surreal situations. It continues to amaze me.

NAW- What are your upcoming projects?

There are always too many things in the works. But to name a few:

I have a collection of short stories titled, ‘The Gourd Seller and Other Stories’ to be published soon by Kitaab International (Singapore) and I am really happy about this.

I have a novella tentatively titled, ‘Many Fish to Fry’ to be published in the near future by Pure Slush (Australia). It has a lady, a sleuth and some fish, among other things. J

Another novella is going in for its final edit.

I am compiling a second collection of poems. I already have a published collection titled ‘Yearnings’ (2010).

I am compiling my Hindi poems (I have quite a number) and am looking for a publisher.

I intend to begin work on a non-fiction book.

As an independent editor, I am also busy editing the manuscripts of other writers.

As you can see, there are many irons in the fire.

Works by Abha Iyengar:

  • ‘SHRAYAN’ available at Amazon Kindle. Also available in print at Flipkart.
  • ‘Flash Bites’ e-collection on Amazon Kindle  and smashwords. Also available in print at Flipkart
  • ‘Yearnings’ a collection of poems
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