Ahead of his first novel, Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction, by Penguin Random House India, set to be launched on April 18, Roshan Ali reflects on how he overcame a constant battle with self-doubt that crippled him and castrated all his beliefs, however, he always managed to emerge victoriously. His maiden novel is not just a body of words, but also a body mirroring his resilience.
I believe you dropped out of college. What made you do that? Was it daunting to leave formal education to chase the world of words?
I think it was a combination of not enjoying what I was doing then which was graphic design, finding that it wasn’t intellectually fulfilling and wanting to do something related to writing. A year before dropping out, I had done a poetry elective and found that I was pretty good at it and not only was I good, I actually enjoyed it. These two things happening at the same time was quite a rare occurrence in my life and I took it as a signal that this was something.
Could you take me back to the first time you started writing a novel, and then to the time you commenced work on this debut?
The first novel I began to write was in 2008. It was an ill-disguised, horrendously written version of Ulysses (by James Joyce). And then once I abandoned that, began another one and abandoned that too. This happened 10 or 11 times. So I guess you could say this story began in 2008 but another answer would be 2013, which was the year the final version of this novel began with a character named Ib. I was never content with the style and it wasn’t until 2013 when I read
The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow that I thought I should attempt a kind of picaresque novel and just copy Bellow’s coruscating, strange-rhythmed style.
Is the character Ib like you?
Yes, but he’s a little bit like everyone (I hope). At his centre, he’s just a baby thrust into this world, a boy thrust into adulthood, and an adult thrust into himself – in other words, he’s trying to know himself.
What was the advantage of the literary fiction genre?
It does not aim to please or lead or instruct or inspire – it is that which the writer writes without boundary, without censorship, without thought of consequence.
How does being a debut novelist give you an edge over experienced veterans?
This is a great question and explores something counter-intuitive. First, there is the element of surprise. Second, there is the luxury of not having to be that good, it is a debut after all and some leeway is given to roughness and lack of craft.
It is believed that authors are socially inept, how true is that?
I am socially inept but I don’t think it has anything to do with being a writer. I think I specifically have a problem with conversation fillers and saying things for the sake of continuing a conversation or avoiding awkwardness. Predictably this leads to awkwardness.
You made it, however, what advice would you like to give writers who are struggling with their first novels?
If these struggling writers are anything like I was when I was struggling with this book, I would say: Don’t struggle – you’re suffering less than you think you’re suffering. Show your book to someone, anyone and get feedback. Chances are that it will be good.
What are the challenges facing contemporary writers today?
Most problems writers face today are the same problems writers have always faced: censorship, the pressures of groupthink, the pressures of certain political narratives, the challenge of earning a living through writing and thus achieving the independence that is crucial if you want to write true.