Akhil Sharma // The Cagibi Express Interview

Akhil Sharma’s latest book, A Life of Adventure and Delight, is a collection of eight stories that focus on Indian protagonists at home and abroad. Sharma’s novel, Family Life, was a New York Times Best Book of the Year and the winner of the International DUBLIN Literary Award and the Folio Prize. His first novel, An Obedient Father, won the 2001 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Best American Short Stories, and O. Henry Award Stories. A native of Delhi, he lives in New York City and teaches English at Rutgers University–Newark.

 

Cagibi: Hilaire Belloc, the early twentieth century Anglo-French writer and historian, wrote, “We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

Akhil Sharma: I am not certain if I would agree. Sometimes, I like to wander because it fills me with joy at the freedom of being allowed to wander, that I have time, that I have the ability to appreciate. The Belloc definition suggests that fulfillment is elsewhere and different from gratitude and delight and admiration.

Cagibi: Name some of your favorite distractions when you travel somewhere.

Sharma: My phone, unfortunately. Tailors, less unfortunately. Consignment shops, also less unfortunately.

Cagibi: A cagibi, loosely interpreted, is a space such as a cubbyhole, or a space where you store things. Or the workspace in which authors write. For ourselves we’ve translated it as “any shelter, no matter how tiny, that allows for big imaginings to take shape.” Pick what kind of cagibi would be best suited for your creative process: a) a super organized cubbyhole b) a super messy tool shed c) any restricted space d) a space as vast as the universe.

Sharma: I need to be in a familiar place to write, and a place where I don’t have to wear pants. My university has given me an office, but I feel compelled to not only wear pants, but also shoes.

Cagibi: Please explain your choice in previous question—we are dying to understand your creative process.

Sharma: I think to write I need to feel safe. And part of feeling safe is believing that what I write doesn’t matter, that it is just me whiling away time. At home, it is easy for me to think I am wasting time.

Cagibi: How does traveling to a new place influence your writing? In what ways do you incorporate travel experiences into your writing?

Sharma: It takes so long for travel to get digested and put into writing that I would say that traveling does not play into my writing. I say this, but I am not sure if it is true. There are sentences and images which I lift from what I see and put into my writing.

Cagibi: Do you use your work as an excuse to travel?

Sharma: No, although I use travel as a tax deduction.

Cagibi: Do you use travel as an excuse to not work?

Sharma: I don’t write fiction when I travel. I have done so occasionally but it has never amounted to much.

Cagibi: Did you ever have to hide in order to write? Where, and how long did you stay in there?

Sharma: As a child, my parents did not want me to write. They believed that all sorts of shameful things could be imagined and so they preferred I not live in my imagination. Still, I would go sit in my room with the door closed and write.

About Akhil Sharma’s A Life of Adventure and Delight

Akhil Sharma’s latest book, the story collection A Life of Adventure and Delight, was published in 2017 by Norton. From the publisher:

A Life of Adventure and DelightHailed as a storyteller whose fiction is “a glowing work of art” (Wall Street Journal), Akhil Sharma is possessed of a narrative voice “as hypnotic as those found in the pages of Dostoyevsky” (The Nation). In A Life of Adventure and Delight, Sharma delivers eight masterful stories that focus on Indian protagonists at home and abroad and that plunge the reader into the unpredictable workings of the human heart.

A young woman in an arranged marriage awakens one day surprised to find herself in love with her husband. A retired divorcé tries to become the perfect partner by reading women’s magazines. A man’s longstanding contempt for his cousin suddenly shifts inward when he witnesses his cousin caring for a sick woman. Tender and darkly comic, the protagonists in A Life of Adventure and Delight deceive themselves and engage in odd behaviors as they navigate how to be good, how to make meaningful relationships, and the strengths and pitfalls of self-interest. Elegantly written and emotionally immediate, the stories provide an intimate, honest assessment of human relationships between mothers and sons, sons and lovers, and husband and wives from a dazzlingly original, critically acclaimed writer.

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