Novelist and short-story writer Shinie Antony speaks to Supriya Sharma about her new book. Excerpts:
Why the title The Orphanage for Words?
The title refers to how words are always changing their mind when it comes to meanings. We lie, we forget, we misunderstand, we twist words.... Words don’t always align themselves to non-verbal communication. From pre-lingual times to now, words have constantly been discarded, misused or mutilated to better suit a feeling or emotion. The question is where do they go? These words that no longer have a place in our lives.
Most of the characters in your stories are trapped in their solitary cells, be it Sara from ‘The Bitch’, or the old father-in-law from ‘Sofa’. In this age of super-communication, why do you think we are so bad at connecting emotionally?
They may be trapped in their solitary cells as you say but they are fluently communicating with themselves. It is when the self-talk is at odds with what is ‘right’ or ‘accepted’ speech with another that they find themselves alienated. Communication cannot work without that first basic frankness with self. Honest monologues just might lead to honest dialogue. And if that traps them unto themselves at least they are connecting with themselves, however not-normal that might seem.
What inspired the last story ‘Words’?
Well, that’s the title piece and I just wanted to look at words, how they say what they say and most of the time say nothing of what they mean to say and sometimes mean the very opposite of what they set out to say. ‘Black tongue, white lie’, ‘show, don’t tell; kiss and tell’... juxtaposing phrases, sayings and bits of conversation freed up those words from their tired contexts.
Do you believe art should have a purpose? Must storytellers also be narrators of the truths of life?
I can’t speak for art as a whole, because I am sure the cosmetic component adding up to the whole in aesthetics is equally important—if not more—than any purpose it could have and more so if the purpose is self-conscious or talks down, but when it comes to the stories I write, the intention is to provoke. If that story has not made me uncomfortable while writing it and will end up as someone’s placid read I would rather not write.
This is your fourth short-story collection. You have also written two novels. Which genre do you prefer more, and why?
Definitely short fiction. My two novels were written like three short stories each. The first one—Cardamom Kisses—was written as past, present, future and the second one—When Mira Went Forth and Multiplied—was written from the point of view of three characters.
What are you reading at the moment?
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. I am working my way through the Booker winners.
Which are the books you enjoy re-reading?
I usually never re-read, not when there are so many books waiting to be read. But recently I was left with no choice on a holiday when I misjudged my reading speed. So I picked up my daughter’s copy of Gone Girl; and found that this time round I could appreciate the writing better as I did not have to deal with the suspense.