Anosh Irani was born and brought up in Bombay and moved to Vancouver in 1998. He has published four critically acclaimed novels: The Cripple and His Talismans, a national bestseller; The Song of Kahunsha, which was an international bestseller and a finalist for CBC Radio’s Canada Reads and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize; Dahanu Road which was nominated for the Man Asian Literary Prize; and The Parcel, which was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, was longlisted for the 2017 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, and the 2018 Dublin Literary Award. It was chosen as one of the best books of the year by the Globe and Mail, National Post, the CBC, The Walrus, and the Quill & Quire. His play Bombay Black won five Dora Mavor Moore Awards including for Outstanding New Play, and his anthology The Bombay Plays: The Matka King & Bombay Black was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Drama. The Matka King received a Jessie Award nomination for Outstanding Original Script as did his latest play, The Men in White. The Men in White was also a finalist for the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. Irani’s short stories have appeared in Granta and the Los Angeles Review of Books, and his nonfiction has been published in the New York Times. Translated from the Gibberish is his latest publication, a collection of “seven superb, subtle, surprising stories that show, through a prism of unforgettable characters, what it means to live between two worlds: India and Canada.” His work has been translated into eleven languages, and he teaches Creative Writing in the World Literature Program at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver.
As a playwright and novelist, what do you enjoy about each writing process? How do you approach your different projects?
The novel is a means of meditation and reflection. Through narrative, I wrestle with the themes that I am exploring — it takes me years to write a book. I can meander – not off course, but just off centre a bit – if the character demands it. In other words, the novel demands time and provides space. Do I need to use all that space? Perhaps not, but it’s there. With the short story, the common perception is that it is a compressed form. This is true. However, the challenge for me is to keep things tight without letting the reader feel that compression. Sometimes, when I read stories, I can feel the writer suddenly realizing that they are running out of space, and the writing suddenly gets too constricted, too rushed. The challenge is to create tension and keep the writing relaxed. Prose is like a muscle. If it’s too tight, you might pull something. If it’s too loose, it has no strength.
Plays are completely different beasts. Perhaps the most dangerous things to write, in my opinion. Because one needs perfect harmony for a production to work – the writing, direction, performances, set design, sound, lighting, and so on. If even one element is out of alignment, the play suffers. The benefit that a play has, for me, is that when you get it right, it is the most electric feeling ever.
As to how I approach projects, no matter what genre it is, the core of the work is character, and an examination of the human condition.
Your work often depicts individuals disenfranchised in modern Indian society, but Translated from Gibberish, a collection of short stories, partially reflects your experience moving to Canada. What made you decide to write about this aspect of your life and how do you reconcile the two?
Well, there is no reconciliation. That is what I have realized. I have to accept the dichotomy, the torn-apartness, and believe that it is a benefit, that I am richer because I am torn. Why did I choose to write about the experience? Same reason – being torn, dislocated, imbalanced.
You have received a number of accolades, including the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play for Bombay Black, while The Parcel, The Bombay Plays: The Matka King & Bombay Black, and The Men in White were finalists for the Governor General’s Award and Governor General’s Literary Award, respectively. What advice do you have for emerging writers and what is the most important lesson you have learned throughout your career?
That you have to be hungry to learn. Never stop learning.