Thursday, November 8, 2012

In conversation with Pankaj Mishra.
Photo by Vishnu R Shekhar 

A novelist, essayist and reporter, Pankaj Mishra is known for his versatile and engaging accounts on a wide-range of topics from politics, culture, spirituality, history, economics and Bollywood. He contributes articles and reviews for the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, the Guardian, and the New Statesman and many other international magazines and newspapers. He has authored six books. His latest work, From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia (2012) has reached high scales of success. The book chronicles the response of Asian intellectuals to the Western imperialism of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

He was at the Sharjah International Book Fair as a part of the “Meet the Author” programme of the India pavilion. He gave an exclusive interview to the reporters from Manipal University, Dubai media team.

What interests you more, writing books or political essays?

Whether it is writing a novel or an essay, they kind of feed into each other, they have all come out of from years of travel, thinking and reflecting on issues that we come across.

How have your perspectives changed since you published your first book  Butter Chicken in Ludhiana in (1995)?

My perspectives have changed greatly because one of the exciting things of writing is when you become a writer you are imbibing on a journey of growth and discovery. You will remain a student for most of your life because you are constantly learning and that process never ends. Your perspectives are constantly changing, refining and developing. Perhaps this is the most exciting part about being a writer; you don’t arrive at a certain point and say this is it. You can’t stop learning new things about your craft, writing process and the world.

What kind of an audience do you think reads your work?

I think the kind of audiences who are generally curious, people who are particularly not well informed, people who have open minds and who are interested in the world as it is today and finding out how it came to be this way.

What do you think are the ethical responsibilities of a non-fiction author, particularly when you write a book related to history?

It would be mainly towards clarity and clarity in the sense of insisting that things are more complicated than they seem, but also not over complicating things. The two tasks which are imperative for any writer in today’s world are not to over simplify and also not to over complicate.

You are a literary critic, how important do you think criticism is to writing?

For me, it is extremely important because it shapes my idea of how books are constructed, allows me to see from within the whole craft of writing. Engaging critically with a book really sharpens your writing impulses and instincts. It makes you a more sensitive reader and probably a better writer as well.

In your latest book From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia you talk about white imperialism through the eyes of Asian thinkers, Do you think white imperialism still exists?

I think imperialism has different forms now, it’s not allied with any kind of race. It’s more insidious than that, you would find its agents; you would find people oppressing… sort of the privileged classes oppressing their own compatriots within a nation state with the help of privileged classes elsewhere. It’s much more complicated than it was in the late 19th century where the lines were clearly drawn racially, there were certain racial hierarchies in play. Now, when you look at countries like China, India and large parts of Africa where they are engaging in what might be called neo-colonialism, practices where we can’t think about race in the same way, it is no longer about one particular race.

What made you choose thinkers like Jamal Al Din, Rabindranath Tagore and Liang Qichao, to portray the Asian perspective in your book?

I was interested in people who did not feature in national histories; poets, writers and prophets. People who are marginal to the mainstream of modern history and because their voices are not heard, it was important for me to amplify their thought and their ideas.

What according to you is the key factor to creative writing?

 I’m very bad at giving advice of any kind. I think everyone has to find their own way but  if I were to speak in an extremely general way, what I would insist on is very wide reading. 

Thank you for speaking to us.

Interviewed by Syeda Nawab Fathima

who is a media and communications student specializing in Journalism in Manipal University, Dubai.