The Other, Stories of Difference – Paro Anand
The Other, Stories of Difference – Paro Anand
Your book comes at an important time in history, when gender and sexuality rights are being visibilised, if not actualised. How did you conceptualise the title and idea of your book, ‘The Other’?
Love the word ‘visibilised,’ goes well with my word ‘otherized’. I think this is the kind of writing I have been doing for a long time, I was once described in an interview, as the voice of the underdog, who, would be ‘the oth. er’. So i would say that this book concretized and brought together much of my work. The otherization comes in so many forms. But for young people, of course, gender and sexuality are important aspects (whether parents like it or not) Whether we talk about these things or not, it doesn’t make the issue go away. For me, a sensitive story that is honest is one of the most effective mediums to talk about difficult issues, especially with young people.
It is not as if I thought, right, now I am going to sit and write a story that deals with sexuality and gender, rather, I looked at the myriad ways in which people are ‘otherized’ and wrote as many stories as I could at that moment.
In your second story, Best Friends Forever, you turn to your own narrative voice. Many of us would like to write from the perspective of ‘others’, but refrain due to fear of not being authentic, or for fear of diluting the experience. How did you, if at all, resolve this dilemma within yourself?
I don’t believe that you have to be exactly the person you are writing about. I don’t think only men should write about men and women only about women. How far would one take this. I know that there has been criticism of some who wrote about transgenders when they themselves were not. I don’t think that should be the criticism. If something is inauthentic, then that is the criticism. and if someone feels, ‘don’t appropriate my story, it’s mine to tell’, I appreciate that. By all means, tell your story, tell it better. But I still have a right to write what’s in my own heart and experience.
Personally, I literally inhabit the character I am writing. I live in their skin. I don’t know any other way of writing. I know it has its problems, like sometimes I am too close to see things more rationally. I also become a very difficult person to live with if I am writing a difficult character. But I am the person in the story. I am not writing them, I am writing me.
Most of your stories have young adults as characters, an important time when identity gets a stronghold. Do you intend to write for young-adults? If so, why?
I let the story take the lead. It decides where it wants to go. So I have ended up writing picture books for young kids, to a story for senior women. In fact, I had started writing a book that will be out next month, thinking it was for younger kids, but it turned into a young adult book instead. I write from the heart, not the head. And I write from impulse more than structure.
The emotion and unresolved feelings in your stories come through very well. What was the writing process actually like? Was it an emotional, cathartic experience?
As I said, I inhabit the skin of my character. So I go where the character needs to go. It is extremely emotional, leaving me drained or uplifted or down in the dumps depending on where I am in my story. As far as process, I try and write every day for at least two hours. And I log the days when I have fallen short of this target and try and make it up on another day. Honestly, I just love writing. More than love it, it is essential for me. Without it, I feel suffocated.
Is it cathartic? I don’t know. I always feel I still have more I want to say.
At the risk of othering the rest, which stories or characters in ‘The Other’ are your favourite, or ones that you really liked writing about?
I always feel that my characters, my stories are like my own children. I gave birth to each of them and a parent can’t really say which is a favourite child. I feel guilt if I leave a kid in a difficult, dark place, I feel relief if its a moment of ‘problem solved’. I weep if something terrible happens to one of them.
Having said that, writing the story “Grief” while I was losing my mother was deeply deeply moving. Didn’t realise how much until some kids in a school asked me to read it and I couldn’t. Then they offered to read it for me, they did it, so beautifully, but it rushed me back to that dizzyingly deep loss.
Can you name some children authors that you grew up reading, and books that made a difference to your childhood? Our audience would love a list of recommended reads from you.
I wasn’t even a great reader as a child, but my family were. all of them. then i found a book that changed the course of my life, Born Free by Joy Adams. It hooked me onto books that described lives i wanted to live. The more i read, the more adept i became at making up stories about how exciting my life was, when in fact, it was dead boring and normal. i became an adept liar. and from there it was a short step to being a writer.
Along the way, I’ve met fabulous books, so here are some of my childhood and current favourites
– Watership Down by Richard Adams
– The Boy in Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
– When Morning Comes – Arushi Raiina
– One Half from the East – Nadia Hashimi
– and of course, Harry Potter and anything and everything from Judy Blume, Roald Dahl
About the Interviewee:
Paro Anand is a Sahitya Akademi, Bal Sahitya Award winner for her Her latest book, The Other, is a ground-breaking collection of stories
book, Wild Child, now published as Like Smoke, with additional content.
She has written books for children, young adults and adults. She also
works with children, especially those in difficult circumstances
through her program Literature in Action and holds a world record for
helping over three thousand children make the world’s longest
She was invited to speak at the Harvard India Conference, USA on
Disruptive Innovation in Literature for Young Adults and Children.
She has been awarded for her contribution to children’s literature by The
Russian Centre for Science and Culture. No Guns at my Son’s Funeral,
which opened to rave reviews, was on the International Board on Books
for Young People Honour List, has been translated into German and
French. She headed the National Centre for Children’s Literature.
The Little Bird who held the Sky up with his Feet was on the 1001
Books to Read before You Grow Up, an international gold standard of
the world’s best books ever. Wingless has been performed nationally
and internationally. She has authored Like Smoke and co-authored '2'
with Swedish writer, Orjan Perrson.
dealing with sensitive issues. As a performance storyteller and speaker,
she has represented India in the USA, UK, Sweden, Switzerland,
Singapore, Germany and Bangladesh, besides all over India.
Paro Anand is a Sahitya Akademi, Bal Sahitya Award winner for her
Her latest book, The Other, is a ground-breaking collection of stories