Thursday, March 27, 2014

Made in Chennai - Tishani Doshi

Poet, Dancer, Writer, Wanderer...
What's the best writing-related advice you got?
The best advice anyone ever gave me was from the American poet CK Williams. He told me to treat writing as a job. That means, don’t do anything else when you’re supposed to be at work. That means have working hours, don’t answer calls while you’re working, don’t go shopping while you’re supposed to be working, and don’t switch jobs without due consideration. Of course, I often break the rules, but it’s good to have them.

What were some turning points you've had along the way?
The first turning point would be discovering a book called Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. The second turning point would be Rilke. The third would be a woman called Cathy Smith Bowers from North Carolina who encouraged and nurtured my poetic ambitions. Everything else was luck, timing and the rest of it.
What are some of the challenges you've had to brave?
Oh you know, the usual. Doubt, rage, bitterness, envy, adoration, betrayal. Humdrum stuff.
Why did you choose Chennai as base? You could have chosen to be based anywhere.
Well, actually, no I couldn’t have chosen to be anywhere. Madras is the city I was born in and where my parents still live. When I decided to become a full-time writer the first thing I did was to quit my job, which meant that I quit my steady source of income, which meant that either I lived in poverty or moved back to the family house. After 8 years of student-like poverty I decided to move back home. That was a decade ago, and I’m still here.

What's your typical day like?
It’s highly typical actually. I like rituals and routines, so I basically have a pattern that I follow regardless of where I am. This involves Yoga, breakfast, writing, lunch, reading, nap, tea, walking, more writing, reading. Food is important, fresh air is important and of course, friends.

What would you consider your secret to success?
Success isn’t actually a word I associate with my life. It reeks of corporate smugness (to me). But, I suppose I’ve been successful in engineering the kind of life I want to live and this has happened mainly because of what I think is my greatest talent: stubbornness (read, perseverance). It really does go a long way. As does a strong support system.

What lies ahead?
I have no idea what lies ahead but I hope more books and other projects. I’m working on a collection of poems right now, so that’s what I have on my table for the moment.

Any words of advice for someone who'd like to be a writer?
Read, read, read. And write, write, write. That’s about it. 

An edited version of this interview was published in Taxi Magazine in 2011.

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