Jayanthi Sankar, the author of Dangling Gandhi, born and brought up in India, has been creatively active since 1995. She’s been published in several magazines and ezines like the indianruminations, museindia, The Wagon, inOpinion. ‘Read Singapore’, her short story published in the quarterly magazine Ceriph – ISSUE TWO, has been translated and included in the Russian anthology: To Go to S’pore, contemporary writing from Singapore, edited by Kirill Cherbitski.
Her short stories have found places in various anthologies. She has been invited to participate in the panels of literary festivals such as (Asia Pacific Writers & Translators) APWT 2018 at Gold coast, Singapore Writers Festival, Seemanchal International Literary festival, Asean- India Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Writers Festival.
Jayanthi Sankar is also a watercolor artist. ‘Expressions of Heritage, Architecture, and Nature’, her first and solo Art exhibition, one full day event organized by NLB on 22nd September 2018 turned out an unexpected hit in the appreciative sense. Her semi-abstract illustration for a speculative fiction drew much healthy attention among art lovers and serious readers.
TBE: Can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb? What is the significance of the Title “Dangling Gandhi”?
Jayanthi Sankar: Dangling Gandhi, is not only the title of one of the 12 short stories but also as a metaphor in that story and of the ideology he upheld with all the uncertainties our times in the broadest perspective. This book has been ready since 2017 to find a publisher and that long process of constant attempts of knocking doors of publishers have been a learning process for me and it’s an interesting long story by itself.
TBE: There is so much going on in this collection of short stories, so many people, so many problems, so many places, so much time. I just wonder what your original idea was.
Jayanthi Sankar: There was no idea of a book in the first place. I created and crafted for the pleasure I derive similar to how I read for the pleasure of reading. Only while compiling, I ensured that there was a sequence to show history-based alternating with the contemporary ones. The twelve stories have twelve different themes and were written over a period of three years plus. So, when it is read as a collection, naturally it brings in the reader such thought.
TBE: Which is your most favorite story from your book? and why?
Jayanthi Sankar: Mani in ‘Punkah Wallah’ was a character formed from what I’d heard during my mid-teens. My dad used to have a Sardar friend when I was in my mid-teens while we were in Shillong. He used to share things about his ancestors, childhood, and partition and about his relatives in the then British Indian army and those who worked as fan men. He said that one such lad was taken to far away Malaya. The memories of those interactions surfaced in me to craft this short story, one of my favorites. So, I’m not exaggerating when I say the character stayed in me for forty years and I didn’t even know it until I crafted that story.
TBE: All of your stories in this book touch the humane side of human beings; I think it’s an artistic choice but is it also reflective of your worldview?
Jayanthi Sankar: Although I write serious literary fiction, I wouldn’t deny that I am a person who believes more in looking at the finer and humane sides of life and people. Similarly, no one would deny if I say that the humans in the present world need to be constantly reminded of the humane side of their being. I believe it possible through the human touch in stories. I cherish the days when I come to hear of or read about rarer incidents, small or big that instill in us the belief in humanity.
TBE: What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
Jayanthi Sankar: The best thing about this book is that each reader will take away from it what his/her age, life experience, reading experience, level of maturity and intellect would allow. The layered narratives of the stories not only leave much room for the imagination of a reader but the abstractness leaves the reader with several questions and debates. Therefore, it is difficult to pinpoint just one or a few things that the readers can take home.
TBE: Tell us about yourself. About your education, achievements, and profession.
Jayanthi Sankar: I was born as the eldest of the four children in South India and grew up in my states as my late father was as a central government Engineer. After graduating in Physics I was married off.
I came to Singapore in1990 with more than two year’s old elder son when Sankar got a job here. My younger son was born here. I’ve always been a freelancer except for the three years of full-time employment as a journalist.
Honestly speaking, I am yet to experience what an ‘achievement’ really is, probably because every day it keeps moving further and further away from me and this long road ahead makes life more interesting.
TBE: Do you decide before you go into a project what it’s going to be – short stories or a novel – or is it really obvious? Does it just happen from the content?
Jayanthi Sankar: I think the theme and content would decide the size of the canvas I choose. In Dangling Gandhi each story turned out to be a small project as you mentioned. They were 12 different worlds, created and crafted at different times. Each content and theme chose form and storytelling.
TBE: What do you read when you’re working on a book? And what kind of reading do you avoid while writing?
Jayanthi Sankar: I read, mostly fiction. I have no issues reading as I always do while I’m working on my novel because I’ve noticed that I never get influenced by themes or treatment, as much as I appreciate all good fiction. That’s one thing unique in me, fortunately so.
TBE: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Jayanthi Sankar: Mostly, I read. Listening to music as I read or edit is something I enjoy. I like to go on long walks all by myself. Making time for painting brings in me lasting happiness. And occasionally I like to watch world cinema that is script-based.
TBE: In your opinion, what is the most important thing about any book?
Jayanthi Sankar: I think a book, a fiction, should not only engage me but it should also demand my focus on the world. And it should leave me with questions and thoughts to expand that created world.
Take Dangling Gandhi, for example, I’ve been getting reviews from ‘Not relatable’, ‘Not my kind’ and ‘Difficult to understand’ to “Awesome book’, ‘New age writing’ and ‘Ingenuity at its best’. Depending on his/her taste, experience and intellect, each reader has his/her own view.
Can we possibly define a correct reading or an incorrect reading? Reader’s experience with the book only matters in the end and that varies.
TBE: What was one of the most surprising things you learned during the creation of your book?
Jayanthi Sankar: Except ‘Read Singapore’ all of the short stories in the collection were written between 2015 and 2017. Each had a different theme and each taught me different things. Most importantly, I explored different ways of storytelling that taught me so much in choosing the angle, main character, content, track, tone and such.
TBE: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Jayanthi Sankar: “Hey young introvert Jayanthi! Why didn’t you craft these stories of ‘Dangling Gandhi’ earlier?”
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Jayanthi Sankar: The first draft of my Novel is ready and I am currently rewriting and polishing chapters. Unfolded with an unexpected post-modernistic tone and flavor, that can easily fit into both Literary fiction as well as Historical fiction, now waits for its publication.