There are few books I’ve discovered at my favorite bookstore. Some via other reviews. One book I can attribute to the former (I think) is one titled Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai. The eerie cover did catch my eye and the blurb kind of added to the curiosity.
After reading it, I knew I had to recommend the book to a few of my bibliophile buddies, including of course, my bookish twin DDS. No surprise, she loved it too. When we saw her name among the list of speakers at the Jaipur Literature Festival, we requested a chance to speak with her in person, and thankfully we got it.
I wondered if I was more nervous asking questions to Kishwar Desai than another author, and I was told the same. I guess that’s the effect of talking to an author one has read before.
Witness the Night paired a broken “detective” with a child suspect. Two contrasting characters for sure. We wondered if the inspiration for the characters was something Kishwar Desai came across in real life or if they were completely a figment of her imagination.
“I think all writers always draw upon reality,” she replied. “They write books which are sort of based on people they know, and this is my first novel. First novel you always take from real life. The person who is the child suspect was taken from a newspaper article that I read. I do not know the person but it was based on that. The detective was, yes, a figment of my imagination, but an amalgamation of a lot of people who I’m familiar with. Not any one person, but maybe two or three people.”
Though her debut (Witness the Night) was a crime fiction, her novels have since shifted genres, even non-fiction as well. It’s not common that one author writes across genres. We asked her how she compartmentalizes her thoughts while shifting between genres.
“I write only what I feel passionately about,” she replies, not thinking about the question at all. It’s easy for her to answer our doubt. “It doesn’t matter really if it is a piece of fiction, or non-fiction. If the story interests me, if it has got a certain kernel of truth, something which I feel is unusual or unique in the story, something new which I can give to my readers, then I’m interested. The genre doesn’t really worry me too much, I would rather just pursue a good subject, and think of the best way of communication. If it is a novel that seems to work best, like for Witness the Night, I will write a novel. But if it feels like non-fiction is the best route, like for Jallianwala Bagh, where there was so much material that people don’t know about and writing as a novel, people might not believe it, I will put it across in a format where even school students or college students can read it or older people can read it and know that it is the truth.”
We asked her about a genre she might consider her favorite to write.
“No. I enjoy the subject and the genre comes naturally from the subject I’m writing on,” she tells us, before adding, “The author needs to tell a story.”
When it comes to literary awards, and there are many, translated books are being considered for them often nowadays. We ask her if one of her books might be translated into a regional language soon.
“When people say translation, more often than not, it means translation from another language into English. I’m an English writer, so if there’s a possibility that it happens in reverse, that one of my novels is translated into a regional language, then of course I’d be thrilled,” she says happily.
Thank you JLF and Teamwork Arts for the opportunity!