He is the author of various acclaimed books, including the studies, Babu Fictions and The Gothic, Postcolonialism and Otherness, the novels, The Bus Stopped (2004), which was shortlisted for the Encore Award (UK) and The Thing About Thugs (2010), which has been shortlisted for a number of prizes, including the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and the Man Asian Literary Prize. His poem Birds of North Europe won the First Prize in the Sixth The Poetry Society (India) Competition held in 1995.In 2016, he published a study, The New Xenophobia and a new novel, Jihadi Jane (available as Just Another Jihadi Jane outside India) to critical acclaim. Khair is currently an associate professor at Aarhus University, Denmark, and a Leverhulme guest professor at the School of English, Leeds University, UK. His novels have been translated into seven languages.
Since you have been recognized for both Poetry (All India Poetry Award) and Fiction (Shortlisted work for nine awards including Man Asian Literary Prize) What do you feel more comfortable with – Poetry or Fiction writing?
They have different demands: for me, poetry requires more space to write. By space, I mean a slower pace of reading, writing, thinking, living, as well as elbow space around oneself. I cannot combine it with my academic routine. Fiction is easier to manage to write – though it demands space too – along with other kinds of work and language-uses.
Which is your favorite piece of your work and why?
One cannot choose between one’s children, can one? But I consider works that I published before (roughly speaking) the year 2000 to have been part of my learning process, and I have no real desire to see them re-published. Of course, one continues to learn, but perhaps less obviously once one has gone through an early and necessary phase of ‘finding one’s voice,’ as they call it (and I cannot find any other way of putting it).
Share with us the germination of the idea of your latest book – ‘Just Another Jihadi Jane’ that has been shortlisted for various awards and has received some rave reviews from people like Amitav Ghosh, Indra Sinha and Gulzar besides others and share with us, also how you developed the idea?
It is basically the second part of my engagement with the convoluted matters of Islam, Islamism, terrorism, islamophobia and global politics today, which, given my background, I could not ignore. The first part was the largely humorous novel, set in Denmark, ‘How To Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position.’ It basically featured three men, two from Muslim backgrounds and the third from a Hindu one, and the way they see each other and are seen by Europeans, particularly Danes. But that left me with the matter of Muslim women, their perception and self-perceptions, and I think ‘Just Another Jihadi Jane’ grew out of the need to engage with that. It also turned out to be a very different kind of novel, inevitably.
What is your writing process? How long do you take to finish a book and do how long does it take for you to edit it?
Depends on the book, but generally I write when I have sufficient time and peace of mind, then I get interrupted, then, when life allows, I go back and revise and write a bit more, and one day the manuscript gets done… or abandoned. I spend anywhere between six months to two years revising and editing a ‘completed’ manuscript.
Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you handle it?
No. I do not get as much time to write as many ‘full-time’ writers. I have a day job, a demanding one: an academic job where I get no recognition or support from my university or managerial colleagues for my creative writing. So I have ideas building up, bottled up, and when I can finally sit down and write, there is no time to agonize over the writing process and develop such largely privileged neuroses as writer’s block.
Who are your top 5 authors / books? What are you currently reading?
This is difficult. If you asked me a year ago, I would probably have two or three different names in the list, and I guess that will be the case a year from now too. One relates to good writers in different ways, depending on one’s own situation and writing, so the list can keep changing. But, at the moment, I would say: Shakespeare, Emily Brönte, Ghalib, Italo Svevo, Ismat Chughtai.
On a personal front, what does a weekend mean to you? Your favorite pastime?
I hate weekends, unless I am doing something with my children. I particularly hate Sundays.
There is one question that I throw at all my guests, what is your favorite non-alcoholic drink?
Sheer Chai (a traditional kind of sweet masala tea). But a good thick lassi comes close too.
What would be your advice to the aspiring authors of ‘The Write Scene,’ who are on the road to get published?
Write because you have to, not because you want to or because it sounds cool. It is a vocation, not a profession. It makes for a lousy profession. If you want to get power, make money or become famous, it is better to do other things: like become a doctor or banker, a manager or a politician, a computer expert or maybe even a film actor. Your chances of success are better in all these fields, and the work is less demanding. But if you are driven to write, go ahead… with few or no expectations from the world out there.
Can we have your views on our new initiative of ‘Young Author Awards’ to recognize the next generation authors under the age of 30?
Excellent idea. Young writers need all the encouragement they can get. I personally feel that you are formed as a writer in the first 30 years of your life, maybe even the first 25.