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Interview with Ayaz Kohli

Q.1 Tell us a little about yourself? Perhaps something not many people know?
A. I am fun loving, emotional, philosophical, rational, and maverick. I have my own philosophy of seeing life, and yet, I am not averse to an alternative approach to it. For now, I am trying to give the expression of my ideas through my words.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
A. Yes, indeed. I am always working on my ideas, though penning them down happens only when I’m convinced of doing so. Right now, I am working on a couple of writings, in a different genre.

Q.3 What did you do with your first advance?
A. I never got it. I have no regrets about that either. For me, my book was a baby, the birth of which I awaited eagerly. Nothing else mattered.

Q.4 What advice do you have for writers?
A. For aspiring authors, I’d say that each one of you is unique in your capabilities and writing skills. Be original, even if your ideas are weird. Remember, an editor will always find faults with your manuscript, but that’s her/his job. If you seek approval of your work from so many people, then you are not sure of it. In that case, reconsider your options to be an author.

Q.5 Does writing energize or exhaust you?
A. I don’t write more than a couple of pages at a time. I am, indeed, so much rejuvenated by my writing that in between I often take a stroll, and gulp some water as though to cool myself off. There are times when I marvel at my own writing and feel a rush of so many good hormones from within.

Q.6 If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?
A. When I started writing Snakes in the Meadows, I was raw and immature as a writer. But I was so much full of passion. Ten years later, when I finished it, I was a different author. In those ten years, I realized one hard fact, if you are unable to separate your personal emotions from your work, you won’t be able to write a great story. That’s what I could have said to a younger me.

Q.7 What are the most important magazines or websites for writers to subscribe to?
A. At any given point in time, my table can be seen loaded with various magazines like India Today, Time, etc. But these days I hardly read any. An aspiring author should at least be on cataloging websites like Goodreads.

Q.8 What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
A. I was raised with that belief. My father is also an author of the vernacular. As a kid I would listen devoutly to his poetry and prose, sometimes, being broadcasted on Radio Jammu. By the age of sixteen, I started to jot couplets and gazals in Urdu. 

Q.9Do you believe in writer’s block?
A. For me, it’s more like a dilemma to choose from among many ideas, each of which might appear better than the others. But, thus far, I haven’t really faced the so-called ‘writer’s block.’

Q.10How do you select the name of your characters?
A. The name Ashwar in SITM is very rare, and unique to the people of Pir Panjal. Similarly, the name Avdal is actually Abdul which is mispronounced by the locals, and I let it be. I believe that if I have to name my character, I must know the background she/he comes from, and what names are acceptable in that context. I take a lot of time on deciding the names of my characters.

Q.11 Does your family support your career as a writer?
A. Yes, absolutely. But they see the Civil Servant in me first and then the writer.

Q.12 Where do you get your ideas?
A. I talk to weird and awkward people, I observe, I read and I am a movie buff. But most of all, I can use my mind to create ideas, to make a hill out of a speck. Once I choose a theme, myriad ideas pour in and coalesce so naturally that, sometimes, like I have mentioned before, I am faced with the dilemma to choose some and discard others.

Q.13 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
A. I really never faced any difficulty in writing about women. Indeed, in SITM there are more women as major characters than men. The difficulties in describing the character from the opposite sex come only if the writer has an incomplete understanding of the work she or he has chosen to write about.

Q.14 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
A. Yes! I tend to create humor even in an otherwise sad situation, and I check myself just in time. And then I try to make my writing lyrical. Maybe, someday I’ll write a whole book in lyrics, like Les Miserable.

Q.15 What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
A. Cracking Civil Services and Publishing my book Snakes in the Meadows both are equally important to me, and my best accomplishments.

Q.16 What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
A. From the perspective of a debut novelist, I’d say that big publishing houses judge your work differently than they do of established authors. There are people in every publishing house who will tell you, ‘this idea is not possible’, while they have great praises, for instance, for Salman Rushdie when he says that a man fell from an airplane and survived and became a goat and then later he became a man again.  The publishing agreement with the debut writer is so discriminatory and biased against him.

Q.17 Who edited your book and how did you select him/her?
A. Ms. Sakshi Nanda was my beta editor. I chose her because her husband is my service senior. Then Rupa has in house team for editing, which did the job.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
A. Salman Rushdie and Christopher Nolan. With Salman Rushdie, I want to discuss so many things - Kashmir, in particular. I want to know about his lifestyle. And I want to tell him that his writing is so weird, but I love it. With Christopher Nolan, I want to discuss an idea about a movie.

Q.19 What is your favorite book and why?
A. A Thousand Splendid Suns. It made me cry, while I was reading it. This isn’t just a book, it’s a colossal tragedy of all the conflict zones in every region. The wars and conflicts are terrible things, the worst sufferers of which are the marginalized, poor, women, and children. Snakes in the Meadows is yet another reflection of this misery.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
A. It has been a very tough journey for me to be a published author. It took me ten years to complete my first book. My circumstances were such that I had to manage between so many things. But then, everyone else does that. Having written it was just half the task. I have faced criticism, rejection, the silent treatment and backhanded compliments for my book.  I kept telling myself – I can take much more than that. Now, having endured all that, bundles of praises for my book are coming my way. I finally feel rewarded. 

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