Two novellas encapsulated into one book is really ‘out of the box’. Why did you make such a choice?
Having written a novel, Silk Fish Opium, and a book of short stories, Train to Bombay, I was eager to take on the challenge of the novella. The novella is a difficult and eccentric form, given its need to maintain a single, unrelenting idea that is both compressed yet extended.
Generations of distinguished writers have written novellas. However, with the literary world’s emphasis on novels and short stories, the novella has been unfairly neglected. I believe it is the most rewarding form of prose fiction, and certainly deserves more attention.
Both stories in Tourist Season grapple with environmental issues and it made sense to group them into one book.
Please tell us a bit about the room where you write and spend most of your time.
The room where I write is on the ground floor of our house in Dallas. Along one wall are windows that bring in the morning sun, on another wall is a framed black-and-white photo of my childhood home in Mumbai.
My desk, which is actually a dining table, occupies most of the room. On the desk is my computer, and next to it a stack of printed manuscript pages from my current project two years of work so far, amounting to a meagre 146 pages. There are other things on the desk: an aroma candle that once filled the room with the scent of jasmine but has now lost its wick. A squat flower vase that serves as a pencil jar and is crammed with more pens and pencils than I will ever use. Two tea cups from this morning, or last night, that I really should wash before the dregs congeal at the bottom.
One wall of the room is lined with bookshelves. Some of the authors that keep me company and look over my shoulder as I work are: Colm Toibin, William Trevor, Jennifer Egan, Orhan Pamuk, Italo Calvino, Ben Fountain, Mohsin Hamid, Maeve Binchy, Yoko Agawa, James Joyce, Anton Chekhov, Salman Rushdie, Haruki Murakami, Elif Shafak, and a host of others.
What is your take on literary awards?
I’m honoured that Tourist Season has been nominated for the VoW Book Awards 2018. While literary awards certainly boost an authors credibility, its important to keep in mind that there are many exceptional books that never get noticed, or get very little attention. Im not sure why this happens, perhaps it has something to do with luck. When Im writing, I never think of prizes and awards. I just try to write the best sentence I can possibly write. And then I go back and try to make it better.
Do you feel that the quickly diminishing habit of reading could make a comeback and become a part of our culture in the future?
Books and reading are vital to the survival of any culture. Reading fiction is one of the most important things one can do. Of course, Im biased because Im an author. I spend most of my time making things up and writing them down. It is in my interest thatpeople read fiction, that bookstores and libraries foster a love of reading.
How are Ramchander and Girnar similar to each other?
Ramchander is a small-time shopkeeper in a Himalayan hill station, whose quiet existence is disrupted when a tourist woman from Mumbai finds a 16th century antique amidst the paraphernalia of his shop.
In the second story, Girnar is a middling professor of Hindu mythology who goes on pilgrimage to various places along the Ganges River. Along the way he meets an American reporter, a woman who is writing an article about the polluted river.
Both Ramchander and Girnar are unwittingly drawn into projects that involve saving the natural environment around them. Through the narrative they become acutely aware of their place in the world. They both fall in love with women who are out of their reach. And, both Ramchander and Girnar are dreamers at heart.
About the Interviewee: Jaina Sanga is a professional writer of both fiction and non-fiction. She has published a novel Silk Fish Opium (2012), a book of short stories Train to Bombay (2015), and a book of novellas Tourist Season (2017).
She is also a literary scholar and has published a book on Salman Rushdie, edited two volumes on South Asian literature, and authored several articles in international journals.
After graduating from a boarding school in Mussoorie, Jaina went to the US for further studies. She has a B.A. from Hiram College, an M.A. in English Literature from Kent State University, and a Ph.D. in English Literature from Case Western Reserve University.
Jaina was born in Mumbai and now lives in Dallas. She is currently working on her fourth book of fiction, a detective novel set in India.