To many, writer Anees Salim comes across as a recluse; a witty recluse. His journey to acclaim started off with rejections. But ten years into his literary career, and seven books to credit, Salim has become an indispensable part of Indian writing in English. With his inimitable sense of humour, craft and wry reflections on human frailties, his works are something sui generis.
Salim's award-winning work, The Small-Town Sea, a poignant tale of a childhood interrupted by death and bereavement, is now being adapted into a film by director Shyamaprasad. In an exclusive interview for Onmanorama, the writer talks about books and his favourites.
What books are you reading these days?
I just finished reading Harvest by Jim Crace. The book is set in a peasant village in England and it explores the impact of the Enclosure Act on the labouring class. I loved the book for two reasons. The prose is beautiful and the craft is outstanding.
How do you like to read?
I like to read late at night or early in the morning. But I read whenever I can, and wherever I am. But I still feel that I am not reading enough.
What is your biggest distraction while reading?
Mobile phone. Social media is a major distraction for me. I hope one day I will be brave enough to drop my phone into the sea.
Your favourite writer/ work of all time:
I don’t think I can name just one writer or a single book. But I admire most novels by V. S. Naipaul, and his The Mimic Men is one of my favourite books.
Which is the funniest book you've read?
Miguel Street by V. S. Naipaul.
Which is that one book that made you cry?
Books don’t make me cry. Some books stay with me, disturb me and leave me sad. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle was one such book. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell was another book that left me disquiet for a long time. It is the only memoir that touched me beyond reason.
Which is your all-time favourite children's book?
I haven’t started reading children’s books yet.
Which is the first work that comes to your mind when you hear the term 'classic'?
War and Peace.
Which is that one book you put down without finishing?
Leaving a book unfinished happens to me both in reading and writing. And it happens too often. While reading, I put away a book after a couple of chapters if the craft doesn’t appeal to me. I discard a manuscript after a few pages if I can’t convince myself about the plot.
Which is that one quote you'll never forget?
“Virtue was vanity dressed up and waiting for applause.” Richard Flanagan in The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
What is the worst criticism you've faced as a writer?
A few times I was criticized for being irreverent while writing about religions. But I don’t know whether I should take it as criticism or a compliment.
If you were to rewrite any of your works, which one would it be?
None. Because once a book is written, I move on to the next, believing that I have done everything I could and I won’t be able to make it any better no matter how hard I tried.
Which is the next book on your reading list?
Booth by Karen Joy Fowler
If you could recommend one book to people around, which one would it be?
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
What are you most looking forward to in 'Kasiminte Kadal', the film adaptation of your novel The Small-Town Sea?
I am really curious to see how the director has dealt with the pain of the child protagonist and the moods of the sea.
Anees Salim’s works include Vanity Bagh (winner of The Hindu Literary Prize for Best Fiction 2013), The Blind Lady’s Descendants (winner of the Raymond Crossword Book Award for Best Fiction 2014 and the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award 2018) and The Small-town Sea (winner of the Atta Galatta-Banaglore Literature Festival Book Prize for Best Fiction 2017). His seventh novel The Bell Boy will hit the stores in August.