Locating Indian Literary Spaces: An Interview with Indian-American Novelist Kiran Bhat

Kiran Bhat is an Indian-American novelist, a global nomad and a polyglot who speaks 12 languages and has written in many languages. Rooted in Kannada language and culture, he has grown up in America, travelling in over 132 countries and lived in 19. He has authored wide-ranging books titled Tirugaatha (Kannada), Autobiographia (Spanish), 客燃脑说, (Chinese) Afora, Adentro (Portuguese), Chakryavyuha, and We of the forsaken world and so on.

Quillopia had a wonderful time interacting with Mr Kiran Bhat. With his awe-inspiring words and gentle disposition, we got the opportune moment to delve deep into his remarkable journey of life and adventures.

Indian Literary Magazines need to have a prominent space. It is crucial to invariably connect with the literary spaces because these are vital for posterity to inspire and enlighten them. I like supporting growing magazines and creative spaces, acknowledging their value, especially young voices, who need to be adequately recognized.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? How difficult was it to pave your path to become an author and become a polyglot?

We are somewhat ignorant as children. My parents are doctors, and of course, they desire me to become one. As a child myself, I had not thought of becoming an author or even polyglot, Because I’m a Kannadiga from the USA, the only other language that I even heard was Spanish, which I barely learned. When I was travelling and living in diverse communities, I realized how important it is to speak other languages to connect with fundamentally distinct people. It’s the only way to bridge a gap between those who you didn’t grow up around, and cannot otherwise connect with.

Being an author, I also experienced certain traumas. As an LGBT person who has grown up in a conservative part of a world, I channeled my depression into poetry, and later it took shape into fiction. Before that, I was innocent and clueless, only like an object shaped by the world.

What inspires you to write?

I do not think that other writing inspires me to write. I weave my words in response to my lack of space in the world; as a response to my lack of ability to absorb languages that already exist in the world.

However, other writers help me create that language, allow me to realize where I fit in the creation of language. The Ramayana, The Mahabharata, and thinking of Puranic Stories like Durga Devi, Ganesh, and many more, these stories hover around my head when I am forming my sense of self. When I was 16-17, I used to go to my library in Georgia, or my high school library, where I used to read John Updike, Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, and now my tastes are varied, I enjoy classic writings.

You are a global nomad living the dream of thousands of dreamers. How do you get acquainted with the diversity of cultures, languages, different countries, and people around the world?

During my childhood, I was in a much less globalized world. But in the high-paced world, we have the internet; it's effortless to connect with booming digital media, television, etc. We very much live in the space of blessing, and we can communicate with people all over the world now. It's a space to allow and inspire people financially rooted in a place.

If you talked to me a year ago, like before this January, I was inspired to promote globality. I wanted to come back to India with myriads of globalizing Indian projects. Witnessing the present scenario, I do not know how the world will be. We live in a time of uncertainty. A part of me is highly depressed as I saw the plummeting GDP rate; I am afraid India will fall into destitution, but also violence, and will have to survive on devious means. When we go to major cities, we come across millions of homeless people suffering in the throes of rampant poverty and the Covid-19 has added insult to the injury. I always meander, 'Will India fall apart? Or will it turn to more sectarian violence?’ Since you belong to Delhi, you can allegedly witness the escalating tension between the Hindu and Muslims. We can merely wait for history to unturn itself; we can only hope for the best.

You have written in many languages. How do readers from different countries respond to your works? Which one is your favourite except for Kannada, your mother tongue?

I primarily write in 5-6 languages, and English is the language I use with the most dexterity and skill. I have authored books in Kannada, Chinese, Spanish. Diverse markets respond differently, but people mostly respond to me in English because it is an international language. I believe it’s challenging to get readers for Kannada and Spanish etc. for someone like me who is dabbling, a kind of experimentalist, always burning with curiosity.

But without a doubt, I have aimed to write for Kannadigas in Kannada, as I wrote one Tirugaatha, and the people of Bangalore, Mangalore, and Mysore responded to it, somehow. Without pretense, I write without the intent of trying to find readers. I write to connect my way of thinking and myself to other languages, to play with words and conception of selves.

Except for Kannada, If I have to choose a favourite language, I would pick Mandarin. It's a wonderful language. Its script is like another world where words are described through characters. Unlike Indian languages that represent sounds, this language consists of characters. In this way, you are supposed to learn 5,000 characters, each with its symbolic meaning. I like writing in Mandarin because you can play with the sound, put images together. Moreover, it has a very wide range of sentence structures, so you can seamlessly combine words in any order. It's a rich language and can play in so many unique ways.

Besides being an author, you are a teacher. How has been your teaching journey so far?

For now, I am a postgraduate student studying publishing in Melbourne. I did teach English online. I believe teaching language, language, and culture are one of the best ways to impart knowledge to another human being. When we write, we try to communicate our visions, but it's gobbled and messy. Teaching is more directional; for example, if I am teaching you something, I am directly passing it onto you. It’s a direct transfer of knowledge. These are valid ways to construct and enlighten people to think better around themselves.

What changes do you wish to see in the Indian corridor of Literature? How can we leave our mark at an international level?

It's a fascinating question because I genuinely have thoughts on a lot of things. I would like to see more experimentation, structural openness, different identities, cultures, aesthetics, and styles in Indian Literature. Historically, Indian Literature is extremely rich in its languages and subcultures and is unique, but these days, it’s become simpler, somehow. Though there are various Indian prolific postmodernists, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, etc, who write incessantly, I wish to envision artists who are going to go deeper in the level of structure, syntax, and cultural explanation. Indian artists need to be willing to bear risks and experiment more.

Which book have you read the most in your lifetime? Can you name some of your favourite authors? Which book of yours is closer to your heart?

It depends. I have read Mahabharata four-five times. I believe we should consume it not because we are of Indian origin, but because its infinite in its stories, and it has affected all of the different forms. It is one of the endless books, and it's fascinating every time I read it; I discover something new and feel like it is engraving itself into my life. Other than this, classics like Moby Dick, The Sound and the Fury, To The Lighthouse, etc. are close to my heart.

What would be your advice for aspiring authors?

I would like to recall something one of the American writers Joyce Carol Oates told me upon our first meeting. I had asked her for advice on how to write. She had told me that if someone is meant to be a writer, they cannot be told anything. I agree. If one is an artist, stories are breathing and living inside you, and you have to tell it because its karma for you to tell the story.

I can set certain incidents in harmonic motion, that might result in paving your paths, but the paths are already inside of you. You only have to continue to live, experience, and breathe the unique things you are dealing with. That's how you create; no one should direct you; you will get there at some point.

Would you like to share something about Girar, your upcoming book?

Girar means ‘to turn’ in. It’s about two archetypes, Mother and Father, who are going to be imagined in 365 different cultures, from 2021 to 2030. It’s coming out on April 13th, 2021. I’ll tell you more as it gets closer to release.

Thank you for contributing and motivating us towards our aim. What makes you support our literary visions?

Unlike in the US, where there are hundreds of magazines thriving, there are few in India, and even the prevailing ones are not particularly prominent. Being of Indian origin, I think it is crucial to invariably connect with these literary spaces because they are vital for inspiring the artists of the next generation, for giving them encouragement and support.

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By Yogita Malhotra, Founder and Editor

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