Recently Speaking Tiger Books published a collection of short stories called The Book of Love Stories by Ekarat. The book cover is illustrated with two thorny branches. Not exactly an enticing book cover. Yet the stories are a curious collection exploring a range of love. From that of marital love, extra-marital, innocent love shared by little children who are probably imitating adults to young lovers determined to be together cutting across barriers, including the terrifying one of religion. It is a collection that does not grip you from the word go and yet it is difficult to put down. There is something about the detached, seemingly unaffected, style of writing of the narrator which makes it difficult to put the book down.
Ekarat is an alter-ego, a self-created role model, with a million stories to tell. He has walked this Earth for forty bittersweet summers. He has been a travel magazine editor, film marketing executive, communications lecturer and salesman.
After reading the stories, I emailed the author. Here are lightly edited excerpts of an interview with him.
- Why did you opt to write short stories and not longer fiction?
Can I tell you the truth? Maybe it was the failure to complete a novel (two actually – in the last seven years) that made me give short stories a go. In 2016, I had just given up midway on what I thought was a very provocative novel. I was disheartened. My friend Palash Krishna Mehrotra read a couple of short stories (one found its way into the book – “Maria”) and he pondered and pronounced that there was something here. That was the inception of the short story collection.
2. How did you get into writing fiction?
Since I can remember, I have been in love with storytelling. I know nothing else. I wrote my first book (unpublished, not sure about the whereabouts of the manuscript anymore) in 2002, just after college. It was an ambitious project – a short story collection that flowed like a novel. My first published novel was The Nothing Man (published by Rupa in 2011) written under my name Ajay Khullar. It was a story of redemption through evil.
3. Did you consciously make every story revolve around love?
Not initially. I wrote the first few stories with the flow of what I had in mind, but when I saw that there was a thread of love running through these stories, I decided to pick up this thread and roll with it.
4. The different explorations of love are fantastic — from the little children in “Love has come to town”, the wife/lover in “Perizaad’s Lover”, to the besotted husband in “Wild Horses (Couldn’t Drag Me Away)” to the stunning “New Kid in Town”. Were these written at different moments in time or in quick succession?
‘Love has come to town’ was among the initial stories, written a few years ago. The others were done in a span of eight-nine months. ‘The Point of Inflection’ was added to the collection last, when the book was already with the publisher.
5. Where do you draw the inspiration for your stories?
Keep my eyes open and my ears close to the beat of my heart. Life provides a lot of material, enough to fill up volumes, if you pay attention. I also draw from my own life. Some of these stories are fictionalised depictions of real life love stories (mine and those that others told me).
6. What is the most challenging aspect of writing a short story?
Honestly, there was no struggle with this collection of short stories. While writing ‘The Book of Love’, I too was in love with a beautiful lady. It made writing these love stories that much easier. It just flowed.
7. Do you think being a travel journalist has made a qualitative difference to your fiction writing?
One hundred percent yes. As a travel journalist you are also telling a story, of a place, of people. You are connecting people to these places. That’s what you also do in fiction, in storytelling.
8. In many ways travel writing and fiction help readers “escape” and experience different landscapes without moving from their chair. Yet, in what way are the rigours of writing distinct for these two forms? Are they demanding in in their own way?
I think to write on travel and to write fiction is a dream job. And I think I’m very fortunate in that regard. I guess you have to have a keen sense of observation for both formats. I’ve had a great time doing travel journalism and I love writing fiction. You, though, invest very heavily when you write fiction (short stories or a novel) and sometimes it can be quite heart breaking – I abandoned two books after spending three years plus on each. It was a terrible feeling.
9. Who are the writers/journalists and poets who have influenced you?
My biggest influence has been the late British writer Graham Greene. I believe a lot of the darkness in my writing comes from the formative years of reading Greene. Also Stephen King – a very effective storyteller who walks the balance of good quality writing and being extremely popular.
10. Why did you publish your stories using a nom de plume?
My reasons for taking a Nom De Plume are very subjective. In my 20s I lived through some dark hours, hours which rolled into years. During these dark hours, I created an alter-ego, a role model, a sort of hero. Over the years I saw some bad days, mostly better. There was no constant in these years, except the idea of Ekarat. I took the name.
10 June 2019