Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Dialogue between Danish and Indian writers III: Kirsten Thorup and Mridula Garg

Vera Alexander: I start off by inviting you to comment on your self-image as writers? What happens when you tell innocent people that you are writers?

Kirsten Thorup: I don't think about a role when I'm writing. I grew up with an oral tradition, and so when I write, I always think about telling the story. I always have this feeling I'm (doing so) more orally than written. When I went to school, I didn't like to write essays. So if somebody told me I was going to be a writer most of my life that would've been like depicting a hell for me.

But I had a need to write something I wanted to tell, or felt needed to be told. I'm mostly interested in the complexity of the individual human being, and the inner chaos. Also the individual towards society, their position, whether they are privileged or underprivileged. I'm very interested in people on the edge of society. I think it's because I myself feel that I'm on the edge of society. It's about being able as an individual to adjust to the rules and norms of society.

I start with the individual, and from that person, I create the story. I don't have a plot from the beginning. I'm interested in correcting the media's stereotypes -- that you have all these boxes that you put people in -- that certain groups are demonized or looked down on. I want to tell that all groups in society consist of individuals, with their own stories. I think that everybody's story is worth telling, if you go deep down in their life. I'm interested in the individual's struggle for existence.

So that's my aim: I want to give people voices, who do not have a voice for themselves. Of course every writer has his own standpoint, from which to tell about what is going on in society.

How people react to your telling them that you are an actor (referring to Astrid, an actor as well as playwright), or a writer ... they still find it strange that you are a writer. That's why it's not difficult for me to identify with all kinds of odd people, because you are placed there sometimes. I remember one time I went to a hospital and I had to register, and they asked me, "What's your job?" And I said, "I'm a writer." "Yes, but what's your work?"

You get reactions from the readers. I think it's a great pleasure to talk to the readers, and hear what they think about the book. Talking about the characters as though they were living people, saying, "Oh, she shouldn't have divorced; she should have stayed there..." 

If I write something that is very close to something that I have experienced, people say, "This is unbelievable," though it was exactly as I experienced it. Reality is much stronger than anything you can think of.

Mridula Garg: You know it's very risky to ask me to talk about myself, because you're going to be told a lot of lies. Actually, once you have experienced a fact, it becomes fiction, because you have your own version. So, let me tell you a little anecdote: when I was a schoolgirl, in the sixth grade, my teacher asked us to write the autobiography of a beggar. So I wrote it, and my beggar was a writer. He begged during the day, and wrote at night, and he was perfectly happy. The teacher was livid. She said, "You have insulted the beggars and writers of the world!" I have a very logical mind, so I said, okay, there is a fallacy. One or the other is fine, but how could I possibly insult both? She said, "Okay, now you have insulted teachers also."  If you want to insult someone, you better do it in writing.

So writing is one way of fighting the establishment, of insulting the people in power. Putting forth your objections. Getting vengeance, seeking justice, without committing a crime. You don't kill, you don't rob, but you're committing all the crimes in your writing, and getting away with it.

That was, I think, the reason -- because I didn't start writing immediately after that teacher had punished me. I waited many years. I started writing, ultimately, after I was married and had children. I think I write with my womb, because I started writing immediately after I had children. Two things happened: the first time in my life I realized there was a thing called happiness, a thing called ecstasy, which came from inside you, to which nobody contributed. If you could keep another human being alive, with your own resources, nine months in the womb and six months' lactation afterwards ... This was a great power. Immediately after that, I started writing. I come from a family where there was absolutely no discrimination between the girl child and the boy child. In fact my great-grandmother, when my mother was pregnant, she prayed that the first child would be a girl.

We were all crazy. In my family, half the people were fully mad, and the other half were half-mad. My other grandmother, when she was on her deathbed, said she didn't trust her husband to get the proper husband for her daughter. So she asked her husband to fetch his friend. These were the times when women hardly talked to their own husbands, let alone their husbands' friends, on their deathbeds. My grandfather, who was a very westernized person, went to fetch a freedom fighter, his friend. My grandmother told him, "My husband is totally under the British, and I don't want him to find a husband for my daughter. I want you to find a freedom fighter for her." So my poor mother was married off to a freedom fighter, instead of some rich person her father would have found her.

As I said, they were all crazies. My mother was absolutely not interested in housework. She was not a good mother. She was not a good housekeeper, she was not a housekeeper at all. She just read books. She read books in three languages -- Hindi, English, and she also learned Urdu. She learned Urdu by hiding behind the curtain when the teacher came to teach her brother. She read books in three languages, and of course a lot of translations from Bengali and others.

We never saw her as a mother. But we knew that it's a great thing to read, and we got our love of literature from her. And we also got quite accustomed to lack of mother-care, and to unusual women. That's why I could write, about women -- and men also -- who are not stereotypical. And that's why when I write a book, everybody's angry.


 More from this interview to follow in this post.


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