Palash Krishna Mehrotra: An interview

What do you do when no one writes the kind of stories that you want to read? Well, write them yourself. That is exactly what Delhi-based Palash Krishna Mehrotra, 33, does in his debut collection of short stories, Eunuch Park, which will be released in New Delhi on Thursday.
“When I read Indian novels, I can’t relate to them. I don’t know what they are about. So, I had told myself that when I write my story, I didn’t want it to be like that,” says the author, who is “seduced” by short stories.
Sometimes a simple, short sentence can strike your fancy in a way that many books fail to do. In Eunuch Park, many such sentences scream for attention.
The book’s subtitle, Fifteen Stories of Love and Destruction, sets its terrain. Palash says: “When I was working on it I had an idea that it would have 15 such stories. There was a theme running through the story. But it was gradually that I found my voice.”
When you write the short stories, the author holds, you are “liberated” from the bigissues. The canvas may be small, but you can deal with larger, bigger things. Palash has always been attracted to short stories: Raymond Carver is one of his favourite writers. Before this book happened, he had been reading some “downwards spiral novels” like Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square and Roy Heath’s The Murderer, the stories which stand out for the “unravelling” of people.  After romancing such novels, he started reading short stories. And also, writing them “At that point of time, I wasn’t too bothered if they sell or they don’t. If you are seduced by the form, you just want to continue. I think the short story is a far more powerful form.”
In a space totally “hogged” by the novel, a short story can “do things that the novel can’t”. A novel “gets in the way” of telling another story. While a short story allows you to tell “many stories”.
Palash wanted to write stories which people can relate to. In his stories, he draws on the well of his growing-up years in Allahabad and Delhi. The style is simple and effective. He reminds you of R.K. Narayan with his straightforward, short and direct sentences.
The stories are grim and dark, but there is a lot of “empathy” with the characters. “That is very important. My characters are always vulnerable. So no matter how nasty they get, they are always on tenterhooks,” says Palash.
Palash has edited an anthology, Recess: The Penguin Book Of Schooldays which was released earlier this year. He says it was his first break and gave him a “sense of identity”. The author, who started taking himself “more seriously” after his first project, says he didn’t have any readership on mind. And it was certainly not the western readers. He was not interested in explaining anything. He wasn’t interested in “formula writing” unlike writers his age. While he has nothing against the Chetan-Bhagat brand of writing, he feels that it doesn’t “examine feelings, emotions and memories with any sense of depth”.
Palash owes his sensibility to the influences of writers like Carver, Salinger (they taught him how the first line of the story should draw you like a vacuum cleaner), Heathe, Vilas Sarang and Allan Sealy. Besides it is music, punk rock, to be more precise, that has made much difference. Punk rock’s short and sharp sentences strike the chord with him.
“Punk rock doesn’t believe in taking too long to say something,” says the author, citing Pulp’s frontman Jarvis Cocker’s songs as huge influence. What tickled his imagination the most was the singer-storyteller’s delineation of claustrophobia in the bedroom, of couples trapped in a bedroom, fighting each other.
Some of his stories seem to end on an abrupt note. When you mention this, Palash says: “A short story has its own tension. When it runs out, the story comes to an end. Unlike a novel, a short story isn’t interested in what comes before and what comes after. It extracts one situation and moment and then tries to get the truth for that situation and moment. When that truth is realised, the story gets over. It doesn’t need to go on and on, unlike a novel.”
When the story ends, what the author wanted to say has been said. And abruptness, according to Palash, is a part of life. Life doesn’t come with “all the loose ends tied up”. They are also left “hanging”. Palash, who was educated in Allahabad, Delhi (St Stephen’s, Delhi School of Economics) and Oxford, feels that Indian writers are trapped in some sort of a “contrived, artificial intellectual space”.
Just as punk rock was a rebellion against progressive rock, Palash’s short stories are a rebellion against long narratives. “Short stories are like a grain of sand. They reveal more,” says the author who is working in Butterfly Generation, a memoir of growing up in the ’80s.
“It is the portrait of a generation that grew up in Socialist India, but came of age in America. Part-memoir and part-travelogue, it’s a journey from steam engine to broadband,” says the author, who got the first words of encouragement from Amit Chaudhuri, someone he likes as an author. “When I sent him the first couple of stories, he wrote back to me, saying, ‘You have a lot of talent. Don’t fritter it away. Nurture your gift.’”



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