I came into the MFA program in the fall of 2010 and graduated in the spring of 2013. My concentration was fiction.
What were your first thoughts when you learned that your novel in stories, The Night of Broken Glass, would be published?
I showed some sample stories to an editor friend in Delhi and she liked them enough and gave me a contract. However, I wanted to rewrite the entire thing. I wanted to spend time on the stories and allow the book to grow. So my first thoughts were: Now that I have a contract, I have to be silent and disciplined.
Could you give some examples of how you became silent and disciplined?
I wrote first thing in the morning and worked for five to six hours every day, for months and months.
Did parts of your novel grow out of your Fresno State MFA thesis manuscript, a story collection called The Last Candle? What was the process like, taking parts of what was your thesis and making it into your first book?
The Night of Broken Glass is certainly influenced by my MFA thesis. But most of the book, almost 98% of the words, were written in the last two years in Tallahassee, where I attend the doctoral program at Florida State University.
I don’t believe in being clever and I tend to say the same thing over and over again. I go back to the same situations and characters, with the aim of looking at things with more knowledge and a greater anticipation of complexity.
My editor friend who signed me actually left HarperCollins India, but she assured that the process of publication was not hampered. I think that is how all great publishing houses work: with integrity, and by valuing the writers above everything else.
I liked how accurate and intelligent my editor, Rea Mukherjee, was during the entire process of bringing the book into being. I like how ambitious my publicist, Kekuchina Zeliang, is in promoting the book. What joins us all is our admiration for the artist, Trinankur Banerjee. He created the cover: blue, surreal, and true to dark bowels of the book.
What was the process like for you, as the author, working with an artist you admire on the visual presentation of your book?
Although it was Rea who conveyed my ideas to Trinankur, he got it marvelously right.
Your publisher says The Night of Broken Glass is its “literary fiction debut of the year” and describes the book as “a dirge to paradise lost, a paean to the beauty of Kashmir.” What are your expectations for how the book will be received?
The greatest responsibility of the writer towards his society is to write well. That is all I want to accomplish; I want to succeed in creating art.
If it is not too much to ask, I hope there is a reasonable conversation around the book about what has happened to the lives of human beings who are entangled in a brutal war between the nation states of India and Pakistan in Kashmir. If you follow the news from my region of the world, you’ll know how the homes and bodies of the rebels are constantly being blown up. And how the civilians who stone the soldiers in protest are being shot at, and run over with jeeps. Yet the people in India and Pakistan go on with their lives as though nothing is happening, as though the lives of Kashmiris do not mean much to them.
How did you decide on your book’s title?
You see it is not that I am not aware of Kristallnacht. But I did not do any research in that direction. And to be honest, prodded by my former editor, I arrived at the image myself.
I am fascinated by the Newtonian theory of how light is made up of this substance called aether. The idea was to create a narrative that resembled a night made up of this stuff of dark glass that was cracked and broken. The image manifested in episodic violence of the soldiers who break bodies and glass in the dark. There is a scene in the fifth chapter, “Rosy,” where Major S breaks the jaw of a shopkeeper with his gun before smashing the glass front of the shop.
Outside of writing fiction, what work are you doing to make a living?
I teach to make a living. I have been teaching writing for seven years now. This semester I got lucky, because I’m teaching a class on fiction technique at Florida State University.
Do you have literary representation in the United States?
No, I am looking for an agent.
What about your MFA experience at Fresno State has stuck with you, and what do you wish you might have done differently?
There are many fond memories I have of Fresno. I remember many gestures of generosity. I miss talking to my friends and professors.
One afternoon, I was in a craft nonfiction class with Professor Steven Church. He asked us to read out loud our favorite passages from the book we were reading that week. I got to hear from him and recite from Eula Biss’s Notes from No-Man’s Land.
I have a great discomfort with the insulation and indifference that the liberal sensibility breeds. You can see who took over politics as a consequence of that lazy attitude, both in India and the United States. You can see the calamitous consequences of majoritarianism and what that means in terms of racism and fanatic nationalism.
Listening to and reciting Biss, which I still do every year in the classes I teach, lessens the ache as it lessened it all those years ago in Steven’s class.
In addition to Eula Biss, if you had to suggest 2 or 3 critical writings that shatter attitudes of indifference, what would you recommend?
I think there should be more critical writings included in the syllabus to shatter attitudes of indifference. Students must be made aware that life is ideological. I think the work of writers like James Baldwin and Toni Morrison and Cynthia Ozick should be studied and recited more often in classes.
What’s your next writing project?
My next project is a novel, with a Kashmiri protagonist, set in California.