I kept books in my room to impress girls: Manav Kaul on writing
Manav Kaul, 42, never thought he would write a book. He started jotting down his thoughts on his laptop while writing and producing plays and acting and directing feature films. It only made it into a book when his friends pointed out that they could be reworked into short stories.
Since 2015, Kaul has published a collection of prose, poems, travelogues and reflections titled Tumhare Baare Mein, and two short-story collections in Hindi, Theek Tumhare Peechhe, and Prem Kabootar. The latter has recently been translated into English by Pooja Priyamvada. It’s titled A Night in the Hills.
Kaul says he grew up reading classics in translation, and believes an English version of his work both adds and takes away from the original. Just don’t expect the tales to be about him.
Playwright, actor, director and writer. That’s a lot of avatars.
I have a lot of time.
Why short stories?
I used to write plays, which come with the burden of also having to produce and find the audience. When you write a play, you think from the production point of view. I can’t write a scene with a ladder, because where will I put the ladder just after? We keep it minimal.
Writing short stories gave me so much freedom. I wrote a story called Sapna, about a woman who says that when she turns 35, she will fly. I loved writing that story.
What inspires you to write?
My mother, a literature student, introduced me to books like Chandrakanta Santati and Chitralekha when I was growing up. In Bhopal, when I started doing theatre, I heard the names of Russian playwrights like Anton Chekhov. They sounded so exotic. I used to think, “Are they real?” So I started reading their plays.
I wanted to impress girls and friends by keeping books in my room. Hindi translations of Russian stories by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Ivan Turgenev would cost ₹10 or ₹12, and I’d think the writers must not be that good, given they were so cheap. But I did end up reading them.
In 1998, I started doing theatre with Satyadev Dubey in Mumbai. He introduced me to Vasant Dev’s writing. And then in 2002, I suddenly felt that I didn’t want to act on stage anymore. So I had time on my hands. I read, watched films and eventually wrote my first play, Shakkar Ke Paanch Daane. I realised this was what I loved, who I am.
How much of yourself is reflected in your stories?
My short stories are like taking the left turn, when in real life I took the right turn.
Which writers do you like?
Vinod Kumar Shukla, Nirmal Verma, Rabindranath Tagore, Albert Camus and Franz Kafka. I follow people who read a lot and write on Facebook and Instagram.
I used to think that the younger generation doesn’t read. That’s not true. I find it liberating to see that they have no expectations of being published or even read. People say “Oh everyone is a writer”. I say, “Why not?”
What’s it like to hand over a story for someone to retell in translation?
Most of the books I love have been translated into English. And given my experience in theatre, I believe that if someone directs my play, it’s his or her interpretation of my idea. That’s why I believe the translated book is Pooja Priyamvada’s work, what she thinks the stories are.
I’m glad it got translated. Writing in Hindi, I can’t reach the whole audience that I want to reach.