Interview: “Shambhala,” Tibet, and Mithila Review

Photograph: My workstation around 2015 at the time of writing “Shambhala.”

Here is my interview with Juggernaut Books, which published “Shambhala” as part of a science fiction series edited by Indrapramit Das in 2016:

Do you write everyday? Where and when do you write?

Writing is thinking through small and hard problems for me; being aware of one’s surroundings and emotions. In a way, I’m always in this meditative zone. After I’ve thought through a problem or an emotion or a set of them, the physical act of recording these thoughts, the outpouring of words occur in feverish bursts that last days, weeks even.

Do you listen to music while writing? What’s on your playlist at the moment?

Yes. These days I’m listening to the best of French songs, and the official soundtrack of the wonderful Persian-American vampire movie, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (Director. Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014).

What is your go-to-site for distracting yourself? Or do you refuse to browse the net while writing?

I read books or watch movies from around the world to distract myself. I use the Internet mostly for work—it took me years of practice to reach a state where I’m conscious, hence more or less in control of choices that I make while I’m online.

Your story “Shambhala” is replete with imagery from Tibet – what is it about the land that inspires you?

“Shambhala” is a story of Tibet, a story of a people who have had to abandon their homeland. It’s also my story, story of my love for Tibetan myths, Chinese philosophy and poetry, which started early in my teens. I went to school in Kathmandu—the other home of Tibetan refugees. As an ethnic Indian boy who grew up in a Khas-Newar city, the sense of wonder, displacement and alienation depicted in the story is as much mine as it is Tenzin’s or Niu Jian’s.

When I was 18, I took refuge in Dhamma. Over the years, I have attended short and long Vipassana meditation courses, and have begun to combine it with Samatha practice recently. “Shambhala” is a result of these experiences, and a deep yearning for reconciliation and understanding between the opposing classes of people. The meditation technique, which Tenzin practices to heal the self and history, comes from the master Thich Nhat Hanh. And it’s extremely effective for those looking for a way to vanquish persistent ghosts of the past from their body and psyche. To become one with peace and understanding through speculation and poetry.

South Asian speculative writing is increasingly being identified with mythological retelling. Why do you think this is happening?

South Asia’s evolution from idyllic small-towns like RK Narayan’s Malgudi into the urban sprawl that it is today wasn’t so organic. Science and technology are products of mindsets, generations of rigorous thinking. We’re a people who haven’t really inhabited this kind of mindset of Western scientific rationality. Even though we are grappling to make sense of the world around us with its high technology and low life.

The rise of mythological retellings is the result of our trying to come to terms with our own historical modes of narration in order to understand the nature of self and the world. The best of these retellings should and can make the modern self and the world accessible, understandable in a tradition familiar yet new to the people. A good story, original and retold, leaves you a new person, provides a worthwhile escape. However, there is a real danger that these mythological retellings end up either serving our superstition or providing little function other than entertainment.

You also run a literary magazine called Mithila Review. Can you tell us how it came to be? Why did you choose to focus on speculative fiction?

Speculative fiction is a literature of ideas and emotions, and Mithila Review is our attempt to tear down the wall of borders, and bring some of the greatest minds working in the field of literature together on a global platform. Mithila Review grew out of a personal response to Canadian grand master Geoff Ryman’s fantastic novelette, “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter.” It’s a lovely story about love, forgiveness and reconciliation between “enemy classes,” which I can’t recommend enough.

Mithila Review was in the making by late 2015. At the time, we were deeply troubled by the violence and bloodshed in the Southern Terai region of Nepal bordering India, and the hate campaigns that had seized the Indian subcontinent during Bihar elections—these great plains form the historic Mithila region. The Jawaharlal Nehru University controversy also fueled its birth as along with my colleague Ajapa Sharma, who is a scholar at the university, we began to think about the fluid languages of protest. We chose Mithila—a very unconventional name for a new kind of magazine—because it had become a referent, a symbol which could “speak to the times when we have felt that we don’t quite belong.” We wanted it to speak to the times when we liberated our anger and pain in ways that have fed the creative river (her words) within us.

There was an acute need for a responsive market and a nurturing platform for readers and writers of such an exciting form of literature in Asia. We’re hopeful that Mithila Review can fill some of this void. The terrific response we have received from within the diverse, global SF community has been a blessing, beautiful joy.

Thank you to Juggernaut and my editor Indrapramit Das for having me here. Cheers!

PS. “Shambhala” appears in the second volume of The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction  (Hachette India, 2021). You can order the print edition here on Amazon India. The Kindle edition (US) is available here. Happy reading!

By |2021-10-03T11:54:08+00:00October 3rd, 2021|Interviews, Writing Life|0 Comments

“Shambhala” – The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction Volume 2 (Hachette, 2021)

A childhood dream comes true: my fiction debut in print!
I am so excited and humbled to announce that my short story, “Shambhala,” appears in The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction Volume 2 now available from Amazon and leading Indian book stores.

You can order the print edition here on Amazon (India).

The Kindle edition (US) is available here.
Many thanks to the anthology editor Tarun K Saint, and Poulomi Chatterjee, the Hachette India editor-in-chief and publisher for her careful feedback/edits, and the entire team that made this wonderful series possible on behalf of all the readers and authors!
I share the TOC with writers whom I truly admire and have had the good fortune to work with at Mithila Review. Some of the works here first appeared or were featured in Mithila Review.
“Shambhala” originally appeared on Juggernaut Books, edited by award-winning author and editor Indrapramit Das. My eternal thanks to Indra, Juggernaut Books publisher Chiki Sarkar and team.

Happy reading!

PS. You can boost the signal to spread the word on Twitter, Facebook & Linkedin. Thank you!

By |2021-10-01T09:52:31+00:00October 1st, 2021|Fiction, Press, Writing Life|0 Comments

Indian Science Fiction: Patterns, History and Hybridity (New Dimensions in Science Fiction) – University of Wales Press, 2021

I am thrilled and humbled to see this first of significant books to come on Indian Science Fiction, which mentions the work of Mithila Review and Kalpabiswa, among others, and also cites my article on the Indian SF: Indian Science Fiction: Patterns, History and Hybridity (New Dimensions in Science Fiction) by Suparno Banerjee – University of Wales Press, 2021.

You can find / re/tweet the publication announcement here on Twitter.

By |2021-10-01T09:49:35+00:00April 18th, 2021|Book Reviews, Writing Life|0 Comments

The City Was Missing

“The City Was Missing,” one of my city poems appear in the latest issue of Star*Line, edited by Vince Gotera, and published by SFPA: Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (America). I just received a contributor’s copy, and the cover illustration is gorgeous, also the poems!

The opening two lines of this poem will be featured in The Mumbai Collaborative Poetry Project (MCPP) — the first ever video poem themed on the city of Mumbai — curated by Vinita Agrawal. Twenty-five poets will be featured in the project, including Nabina Das and Priya Sarukkai Chabria.

Here are my notes for the poem from March 22, 2015:

“Two weeks after The New York Times asked PM Modi to speak about the mounting violence against India’s religious minorities, he broke his dangerous silence. ‘My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly,’ he assured Christian leaders. The attack on a Navi Mumbai church this Saturday showed that it would take more than rhetoric from the iron man of secular India to protect its minorities. This poem is a warning against the departure of religious tolerance and cosmopolitan spirit from Mumbai, formerly Bombay. (The city’s name was officially changed to Mumbai at the behest of a local Hindu-nationalist party because Bombay sounded so British.) Ultimately, it is about our personal relationships with cities we come to associate ourselves with.”

“The City Was Missing” first appeared in my poetry collection Khas Pidgin (Amazon, Barnes & Noble & iBooks). If you haven’t purchased or read it already and would like to receive a review copy, let me know. Happy reading! ???

By |2018-02-22T04:46:31+00:00February 22nd, 2018|Poetry, Writing Life|0 Comments

New Book: The Story of India’s Partition

On July 8, 1947, Cyril Radcliffe arrived in India for the first time. He had five weeks and four judges to settle the boundary between the newly independent India and a newborn state of Pakistan. After drawing the “ Radcliffe Line,” the British officer burnt his papers, refused his fee, and left the wounded continent never to set foot on it again. Based on W.H. Auden’s famous poem, “Partition,” this is an illustrated account of the man who oversaw the controversial border settlement which left one million dead and twelve million homeless and permanently displaced.

Available to purchase on Apple iTunes Store & Amazon.com.

Sample Pages:

Back:

Available to purchase on Apple iTunes Store & Amazon.com.

Update: August 19, 2017

Yay! Our debut picture book, “The Story of India’s Partition,” is currently No. 1 New Release in Children’s Biography Comics on Amazon.com right now. Thank you for your love and support!

By |2017-08-19T06:37:30+00:00July 24th, 2017|Comics, Graphic, Press, Writing Life|0 Comments

Violent Delights: “Which species of bird is a drone?” 

salik shah_partition

Field Notes: A photograph from my debut poetry reading at the Partition Museum project – Oxford Bookstore in Delhi / August 2016

War deadens you; street hardens you. I’ve seen boys beaten to pulp, and could do nothing to help them. I’ve come this close to getting smashed, cut or shot, and during those darkest moments of rage, considered violence, its violent delights. Art saved me. Somehow I would end up pouring all that vengefulness and anger, fear and blood, into whatever I was doing at the moment: drawing, journaling, poetry, screenwriting. And find peace. A kind of solace. (more…)

By |2017-04-10T16:13:49+00:00March 29th, 2017|Writing Life|0 Comments

HT Interview

I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to introduce Mithila Review to the wonderful readers of Hindustan Times!

We just launched our first quarterly issue for 2017, and I hope you’ll love it!

Apart from excellent poetry, fiction and essays, Issue 7 of Mithila Review features my interview with Hugo-winning Chinese author Cixin Liu (translated by Shaoyan Hu), roundtable discussions on the state of speculative fiction in Czech Republic and Latin America!

Please subscribe or donate to support Mithila Review and our contributors. We cannot become a paying market without your support.

By |2017-07-14T05:05:04+00:00January 18th, 2017|Interviews, Press, Writing Life|0 Comments
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