Some of us have wings: a conversation with illustrious flash fictionista Kuzhali Manickavel

Everybody knows who Yara Sofia is in Puerto Rico. And if you don’t, then sorry darling, this is not your world.

–One of Kuzhali Manickavel’s favorite quotes from Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Season 3.

For the past few months I’ve been up to my earlobes in Blaft Publications. Last week (?) I posted an interview with Rakesh Khanna, editor of Blaft’s Tamil Pulp Fiction series, and Pritham K. Chakravarthy, translator of same. Next week my Blaft extravaganza review will appear in Bookslut. For now, content yourself with this interview with flash fiction author and scintillating blogger Kuzhali Manickavel, author of the story collection Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings. Besides buying her book, which you should do before reading this interview, you should sample some of her very short stories linked from her website (there’s a whole menu along the right side of the page).

Lapata: In a recent blog post on Indian writing in English, you title a section: “Do not have a name like Kuzhali Manickavel.” You offer alternative names for other IWE writers (Vikram Seth=>Seth Victor, etc.), but not for yourself. I was thinking Carly McKnieval might be good, what do you think?

KM: I’m actually not qualified to be an Indian Writer in English (people have told me this so it must be true) but I feel like that shouldn’t stop me from writing blog posts telling other people what to do, especially when it comes to authenticity for Indian writers in English. Having said that, I’m not sure if Carly McKnieval is the name I’d go with. Carly’s fine but I have some reservations about ‘McKnieval’ because it sorta looks Jewish and Scottish at the same time, which might be confusing for people and may also force me to lie. Because if people were to ask me ‘So are you Jewish or Scottish?’ then I would have to say ‘Yes’. And then if they say ‘Oh, I had no idea there were Jewish people in Scottish…Land.’ I would have to say ‘Oh my God, Scottish Land is like the most Jewish place ever!’

Actually, I don’t mind lying like that because writer authenticity is really important to me and I feel like you need to be prepared to lie and change your name for it and stuff like that.
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Days of Anger

أيام الغضب Jan 25th. Jan 28th.

It isn’t a domino effect.1 What happened in Tunisia, isn’t what is happening in Egypt and what is happening in Yemen and what is happening in Lebanon and what will happen in Oman. The internet or twitter or facebook is not behind this.2 Neither is al-Jazeera.3 Each of these states have their very particular histories, very particular teleologies which are more decisive – whether politically or symbolically – than anything in the social media netscape bullcrap. Yes, there are striking similarities: the dis-enfrachised populations, the dictators or prime-ministers propped up by Europe or America (those chaste defenders of freedom everywhere), the young and the connected. Yes, no one wants this to happen – America and Europe would rather eat crow than actually admit to a democratic program in Middle East or Africa (teh Mooslims!) and there are powerful and entrenched forces within these states who will not tolerate any challenge to their hegemony.

What we see is life itself. These are the millions who have been denied participation in their own lives. Millions who have suffered the oppressive, fanatic violence of a state propped up by vested interests. They were always visible, they were always trying to tell their story, trying to eek out an existence of dignity and honor. How long can that quiet struggle last? How many have to give up before one stands and says, I will not go silently.

These are the days of anger – and they will be noted. Some, who are far away, can do more than bear witness. We can raise our voices in support.

update: A nuanced take on Egypt underlining my point about local context is Paul Amar, Why Mubarak is out.

  1. The “narrative” likes to see everything connected in the Middle East or Africa, with helpless masses, force fed some conspiracy theory or some mishmash of presumed victimhood are always pawns waiting to tumble. Hence, you cannot have true democracy in the M.E. because the pawns might elect terrorists! To assert a homogeny in these protest is to continue to give credence to such ahistorical, apolitical and biased twaddle. I refuse to play. []
  2. If credit must be given to technology than give to the lowly mobile phone with the capacity to record video, and send SMS and MMS. []
  3. I love how everything is a “narrative” to the NYT now []

A Big Leg of Mutton, or: How to Consume and Translate Tamil Pulp Fiction

My review of a whole raft of Blaft publications comes out in the February issue of Bookslut. In the meantime, I’ll be posting some interviews with prominent Blaft personages. Here is the first: an interview with Rakesh Khanna, co-founder and editor of Blaft, and Pritham K. Chakravarthy, translator for The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction, volumes I and II, and the experimental novel Zero Degree, by Charu Nivedita. Khanna, who grew up in Berkeley and later moved to Chennai, has a day job as an editor of an online math website and has worked on math textbooks for middle school and high school students. Chakravarthy is a performance artist, author and assistant professor of dramaturgy and film history at the Ramanaidu Film Institute, Hyderabad.

While I was reading both volumes of Tamil pulp fiction, I invented a fantasy about how the project came about. It went like this: Pritham and Rakesh are a couple. They met in Berkeley and shared a taste for camp and pop culture. On a trip to India, Pritham picked up a bunch of pulp fiction novels on a whim at a train station. As they traveled about she would read them and laugh hysterically. Rakesh, who did not know Tamil, would ask her to translate the good parts. Thus was born the dream. They moved to Chennai, leaving behind bright futures in Silicon Valley, and started Blaft. After reading a number of interviews and articles online, I now know that this is not true. I know that Rakesh moved to Chennai, didn’t know what these books were all about and wanted to know more. He somehow found Pritham to translate them and the rest is history. My fantasy destroyed, I asked them the following questions:
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