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An Interview with Devdan Chaudhuri: New Writers, New Audiences

Feb 2017

An Interview with Devdan Chaudhuri: New Writers, New Audiences

Devdan Chaudhuri wears many hats: he is a poet, a fiction-writer and a columnist. His latest poem has been included in a list of 39 contemporary Indian poets in Muse India. His first novel, Anatomy of Life, was published by Picador in 2014. On sitting down for a chat after his session, this is what he had to say.

  • Your poems have been published in literary journals. Do you think literary journals make poetry, already accused of being an insular genre, less accessible or more accessible for people?

I think they help people to access poetry. Literary journals are online. So that poem or that article can be shared instantly by anybody in the world. Poetry has now become about free reading; in fact, that is why publishers are not very interested in publishing poetry in the form of a book, because people think of poetry as something they would like to access for free. Literary magazines are doing great work. They are giving avenues to writers to publish stuff and that really helps. There is no restriction of column space and so on. The literary output, too, is much faster as a result. Even writers discover other writers through these magazines.

  • Did you shift from poetry to fiction, for your novel Anatomy of Life, because of this problem with poetry being regarded as ‘free’?

No, I write both poetry and fiction naturally. I write short stories and essays as well. I started with poetry and I do want to publish a book of poetry at some point. However, rigt now I’m focusing on writing my second novel. This is why I’m looking only at literary magazines for the time being. I have been asked to write poetry for an upcoming anthology by the Sahitya Academy as well. So this obviously means that there is a demand for poetry. But it’s still not sure, at this point, if this translates to a demand for my book of poetry!

  • Do you think that there a certain kind of writing has gained popularity and if one does not fit into that category, one does not get the same kind of space in contemporary literature?

You really don’t know what will catch on and what won’t, in literature. Something might just catch on 50 years later- look at what happened with Julio Cortazar! So I think one needs to do what one has to do as an authentic artist. There is no point, I think, in aiming to go viral. But poetry is making a comeback in India, especially in English.

  • What are the challenges of being an Indian writer who writes in English?

There are more advantages than challenges, I think. People who are writing in regional languages are facing a lot of challenges because their creations, even if they are world class, often do not reach the wide audience they deserve. Translation is an area that is lacking as well. For example, I had never read any of Subimal Misra’s books until V Ramamswamy translated them. I read two books and they are fantastic. We need more translations of non-English books.

  • You mentioned, in an article for The Wire, that the Nobel Prize introduces us to authors from outside the Anglophone world. Who are your favourite authors who write in non-English languages?

The Syrian poet Adonis is one of my absolute favourites. So is Adam Jagelewski. The novelist Javier Marias writes beautifully. These writers are creating literature of the highest order. The problem with Indian literature is that we are still too dependent on what is happening in Europe and America and their culture. When Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize, no articles were published, people didn’t even read theie books, unlike when the Booker Prize nominees were announced. I wrote the article to encourage readers and writers to go beyond the Anglophone world.

  • In a post for The Wire, you wrote about Lalon Fokir, comparing him to Bob Dylan. What prompted this post?

I studied in Fergusson College in Pune. In my hostel, there were guys from Bangladesh who would listen to Lalon Fokir. That is how I was introduced to his music. When Dylan won for his ‘poetic expression’ I was reminded of his connection with baul heritage. Lalon is similar to Dylan, in the sense that they both sing within the folk traditions of their respective places. And people don’t know him! So I thought, to write about him and introduce him to an Indian audience who might not know him would be a good idea. The article was widely shared on Facebook, which means I could accomplish that goal to an extent.

  • Do you have any advice for a budding writer?

Writing is not for everybody. It is a major decision that lasts a lifetime. You need to protect your solitude, your personal life gets affected. So I will say only this: don’t write casually. Write like it is the only way you are able to breathe.

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