For Amandeep Singh Sandhu, literature is an understanding of the essential human struggle to become complete. And, that reflects in his works as well. Sandhu’s first book of fiction, Sepia Leaves (2008) is about a family living under the shadow of schizophrenia. Told through the eyes of a boy based in a steel town during the Emergency in India during the 1970s, the novel is now considered a cult classic among students of psychology, mental health partners and caregivers in India. His second fiction Roll of Honour (2012) is about the split loyalties of a Sikh boy in a military boarding school in Punjab during the Khalistan movement, based on the events of the year 1984. Roll of Honour was short listed for The Hindu Award 2013.
He is currently working on his third novel The Memory Maker that deals with the themes of memorials and migrations. Born in Rourkela, Sandhu (who can also speak quite a bit of Odia) was in the city to attend the Utkal Literature Festival when he paid a visit to Bakul Foundation for a healthy discussion with some young minds and that was when MCL caught up with the talented author for an interview.
Tell us something about your writing.
I was among the first generation of technical writers. I registered one thing from it – you cannot manage other jobs and people along with writing hence I gave up on it. Both my books are partly autobiographical. I don’t see myself as a writer. I am trying to do something through writing which I feel is important to do. This kind of writing is known as testimonial fiction. There is injustice happening to each one of us every day and I don’t find any system or government to provide justice to us. I just try to write the stories to put it for the court of justice of the world, considering myself as a witness. I want to break that mould of writing fiction for a person’s first novel. I wanted to write non-fiction in my own way and spent about six months finding the tone. I can do this for around three more years.
You have held a variety of jobs so far, from being a farm-hand to a journalist. How did you manage writing and working simultaneously?
Depends on what kind of job you are in. Whether you are a sportsperson or a singer or a musician, you can have around four creative hours a day. You need your energy and freshness to work more. Cut down your needs if you are not working for a family. I was into journalism and I was not able to do any writing as my juices would go into writing my copy, then ventured into an NGO preparing curriculum for an educative programme. When I was in Germany for a fellowship, I could do writing (writer in residence) and also during the following year.
Which genre is easy to write?
No genre is easy. The theme which I write may take up to five to six years.
What about writer’s block and rejections?
They are a part of you and they are lovely. Do not try to drive them away. Learn to live with them. Don’t try to fight them, give yourself ample time and treat yourself with kindness. I have lived with one for about 25 years. No one cares if you die. If something good comes out, then it’s hitting you inside and its absolutely lovely, if not then keep trying ahead. Rejections are a part of the process. My book had gone around with all the biggies initially but it didn’t materialise. But now it’s famous among people. Same thing happened to J. K Rowling also. She just wrote the story and gave it away to her grandchild to read, who later complimented her that it was a lovely read.
Given that you have the idea, what is more important, being grammatically correct or having a stronghold over vocabulary?
I have a very poor vocab. People have imbalanced ratio of langue and parole which needs to be taken care of. My langue (number of words you know) and parole (number of words you effectively use) are almost the same. Grammar changes with time and with societies.
Can writing be taken up as a mainstream profession?
(Laughs) No. Don’t take it as a mainstream profession but I would say it is a risk worth taking. The feeling of weaving your ideas, imagination and encounters into words, the whole process is a different experience which we all should give in to at least once in a lifetime. If you are not working then the money runs out. But at some point we should try to label ourselves as writers and give in to the process.
With today’s internet savvy generation, what do you feel about book reviews and habits of reading books and newspapers?
With social media at the beck and call of today’s generation, areas like book reviews have been shrinking like never before. There is no culture for book reviews. Many good reviewers have stopped reviewing. Hard copies as in newspaper are hardly helpful. I have worked with The Hindu earlier and the book review section has diminished. The attention span of reading newspaper has also dwindled. It has found more use as peanut packets (thonga). As of now, I have stopped writing reviews. I have lost around 100 reviews in the process of entities upgrading and changing their websites. I don’t feel book reading has gone down. Be it on the internet or paperback copies, as long as people are reading, it’s well and fine.