Author Interview: Ameya Bondre

First things first: how did you take up writing?

That’s a tough one. The first ever short story I wrote was for the fiction article section of an annual medical college magazine in 2005. This story was, umm… really a situation in the middle of a communal riot, where two people take shelter in a half-locked garage and have a strange conversation. They don’t know each other’s religion, they don’t ask, and they are sort of scared to talk about it. And yet, one of them has a weapon, the other is unarmed, and they are both trying to reach their respective homes, hiding from the ravaging rioters outside!

I really don’t know what made me put this out. Perhaps, the exposures back then, or the films I may have seen or this image… of these two peculiar ‘unidentified’ people who have a conversation in the middle of a riot. I don’t know… but, the story was well received! And, somehow that ignited a flame, wanting to know if ‘I can write’.

I began to write more, but privately, not necessarily full-length stories, but a whole lot of general thoughts, poems, anecdotes and the like. Of course, then, as they say, ‘life happened’ and writing took a back seat. I sort of, blogged as well, for a year or so, till I couldn’t keep up with daily fiction blogging. Writing had its phases of intense activity and no activity, ups and downs – even two attempts at novel-writing, or two shelved books, each after writing dozens and dozens of pages!

Till one day in 2017, the enrolment in a creative writing workshop and a consistent effort at writing full-length stories as part of the assignments of that workshop, with a lot more work after that, made this book or my debut book.

What was your very first attempt at creative writing?

Oh, so it’s the riot story I said earlier! However, I remember, writing during school, and in particular, an article for the school magazine, where for some strange reasons, I stuffed the content with decorative words from the dictionary – this is 1997, and I don’t know why it made me think that the article would impress the editor, thanks to these heavy, flashy, choicest words! And, it was rejected! I am not sure, but I do think that this explains the way the system taught us  – the emphasis on words, more than thoughts!

Where did you get the ideas for your stories?

That’s hard to pinpoint! But, several people, places, exposures, and experiences have fed the stories in Afsaane. All fiction derives from life, and yes that’s true, but that happens in strange ways. Say you have a heartfelt conversation with someone, and you forget it, and after weeks or months, a part of it springs out of your head, while you stare at a computer screen grappling with a totally different unrelated story. You realize why it stayed with you – that part of the conversation – and you think harder and harder, and take a leaf out of it. A leaf that you then develop, adapt, and remould. You use it, or at times, you don’t – you just store it for later! No, this is not the format in which life feeds fiction! There could be a hundred other ways… but perhaps, all we need to do (easier said than done) is to keep our eyes and ears open, for ideas!

What in particular gave you the idea for Afsaane?

After two shelved novels in 2014 and 2015 (with about a hundred written pages scrapped), the only idea, drive, motivation, fire, which propelled Afsaane was – whether I could write a complete book, have it reviewed by the editorial scissors and publish it! And, to put it more specifically, whether I could string utterly unrelated human stories into a collection, and yet have common, emerging themes tying them together! The stories, per say, derived from ideas coming from various aspects of life – my life, lives of those around me, lives of those I know closely, instances, experiences in different settings. And, they all came together as flashes and images, almost shouting that they were raw materials to process into plots, characters, settings and dialogues!

Do you have particular schedules or writing routines when it comes to your work?

I am a full-time healthcare researcher, so all I do is slot my day as realistically as possible. My work takes up my time from 9 am or earlier, to around 6 pm or a little later, and then I work out. I am able to write during those crucial couple of hours before sleeping. That’s my usual slot – or sometimes, in the evening, especially in the lockdown. For me, a daily two-hour session is enough. If I am not writing, and yes, there are many days when I am not writing… but I am reading, watching a film, or a play online, reading a short story in a digital magazine, or brainstorming an idea, or doing something that helps me immerse in storytelling. Just a story of any form! I don’t stress about writing in that sense. I mean, I don’t need to put my thoughts on paper (or MS Word!) in those two hours. I only need to do something that stimulates the urge to tell a story – that’s the goal I strive for. It’s only when I have a project at hand, for instance, a book I am writing, then I assign those hours mentioned earlier.

Do you have any particular authors who inspire your work?

J.D. Salinger, George Orwell, Franz Kafka, Jane Austen, Truman Capote. Back home, I love Amitav Ghosh, and the Hungry Tide is one of my favourite books. I love Manto’s stories, Gulzar’s poetry, Rushdie’s books including Midnight’s Children, and Ruskin Bond’s stories.

What would your advice be to aspiring authors?

If I speak on writing per say or the pre-publication phases – I would ask them to read George Orwell’s ‘Why I Write’ and ‘Six Rules for Writing’ if they need an immediate, short, intense, relevant and a timeless crash course! No, that’s not a magic wand but I really do think it has a wealth of perspective! Also, this article in the Guardian that I seem to recommend everyone! But, more importantly, I would simply ask them to write – not worry about the format, be it a story or a poem or a longer piece or a fictional essay or creative non-fiction. I would suggest them to write, write often, write daily, write bad, make mistakes, write again and make friends with writing. And fast forward to the stage when they have a full book on their hands, I would ask them to take the editing process very seriously – keep the egos and sensitivities aside, listen to the editors, let their scissors cut through your content – it’s not always like that, but nevertheless, and have a healthy exchange of ideas with your editor.

What would be an ideal gift for you?

A fancy but not too large book-shelf with a good number of beautifully arranged classic and contemporary novels, or books by these very writers I mentioned earlier!

And finally, if there was a book you could turn into a movie, what would it be and why?

I would love to see “The Guest Cat” by Takashi Hiraide made into a movie, if that’s not been done so far! This is a moving, intimate story of a still, quiet, unremarkable life of a married couple in a small rented Tokyo cottage, disturbed one day by a cat who invites herself into the kitchen. Routine life, in its subtle and messy ways, takes on new meanings! New joys and old things assume an unknown colour. The gentle entry of a docile creature untangles a relationship.

I’m just worried though, how would the director shoot a cat so well trained to emote what he/she wants! Of course, technology may help, if not (sadly) a real cat!

What’s next for you? And when will the next Ameya Bondre book be available in the market? What are your future plans for writing? Can you give out a teaser or two for your readers?

Yes, I am working on my next book, which is a novel.  Also, whenever feasible, I am always open to writing poems and I’ve submitted a few to literary magazines. For instance, one of them got published in the UK-based journal, ‘the Visual Verse’, or another one in ‘The Bombay Review’. So, in terms of current fiction writing – my next book, and an occasional burst of poetry is all that I do!

I am pretty much through with the ideation, but need to start the drafting! I am hoping this novel will be out in early or mid-2022.

Teaser, hmm, well – let’s put it this way, I’d read this somewhere that sort of… perfectly describes the core theme of this story, based on a fortnight in the ‘career’ of a struggling writer in a maddening city – “when life squeezes you from all sides, all that comes out of you, is NOISE”.

You can also listen to Ameya Bondre’s Interview on BUZZ Talks right here on the BUZZ Pod!

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