Tanuj Solanki’s fiction has been published in DNA (newspaper in India), The Caravan, One Throne Mag, Burrow Press Review, The Collapsar, and others. He is always working on a novel.
Geosi Gyasi: Can we begin from your story, “The Other Room” published in the Winter Issue of One Throne Magazine! Where did you get the inspiration to write it?
Tanuj Solanki: There are many pointless Friday and Saturday evenings in Bombay. Especially for young people. You meet new people from either sex but you don’t really connect. You can say that the accumulation of such evening was my inspiration to write this story. I wanted to write about these two characters who just don’t connect, for whatever reasons despite being sexually attracted to each other.
Geosi Gyasi: Which “other room” were you referring to in “The Other Room”? Or is the title metaphorical?
Tanuj Solanki: “The Other Room” is the room of secrets, of secrets that are traumatic, maybe. Basically the mental space that we roil inside in self-pity, but bar others from entering. I believe we do that because we are afraid of being healed, of losing the assurance and false privacy that a secret offers us.
Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write “The Other Room”?
Tanuj Solanki: The first draft took a week, which is abnormally fast for me. The revisions had been on-again off-again for months before publication.
Geosi Gyasi: “The Other Room” ends with a profound line from the epilogue as “I hope T has left that flat of his”. Could you comment on this?
Tanuj Solanki: This is from the narrator, the girl who enters the guy’s room, the other room, and confronts his secret. She perhaps realizes that the trauma affects T’s entire life, not just the time he spends inside this room. Think of the empty refrigerator, the bare kitchen, the broken dining table. This is why she comes to believe that he needs to get out of the flat itself. But she won’t say it to him; he scares her. And doesn’t a flat signify flatness, something that should always be left?
Geosi Gyasi: Did you know that you would one day become a writer?
Tanuj Solanki: I don’t know if I can say that I have become a writer. Did I know I will become whatever I have become? — No.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you continue to live in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India? Could you tell us a little bit about the place you live?
Tanuj Solanki: I prefer to call it Bombay, which is its British name, merely because the syllables please me more. It is a hectic place, probably the most populated city in the world. It is dirty but beautiful, harsh but humane, and so on…a place of many contrasts, like all cosmopolitan cities of the world. And just as all of them, it has a unique personality. Once you live in it, its local trains, its street-side snacks, its language (Marathi), the gestures of its people – all become a part of you. I would like to mention that I am basically a migrant worker here, and that Bombay is a thousand miles away from my hometown in North India.
Geosi Gyasi: How is the literary culture in India like?
Tanuj Solanki: Active. Indulgent. Elitist. I’m probably an outsider, lesser known than many with lesser talents. The culture is not entirely free of the gaze of the West. It still wants to claim Jhumpa Lahiri as its own for that very reason. Very few who are below 35 are accepted as having arrived. The Indian tradition of respecting elders sort of prevails. I strongly believe that the generation between 22-34 is currently writing the best literature in India. That is the generation getting published in North American litmags today. But lack of avenues at home mean that we, too, may end up writing for North America, meaning that Indian stories that are most easily available will remain under-told by us.
Geosi Gyasi: In 2014, you were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. How did that feel? What are your thoughts about nominations, prizes and awards?
Tanuj Solanki: I knew getting nominated was only a small success, and I treated it just as I always do such successes, with a beer. I think prizes etc. do this function of motivating emerging writers. Many of my stories got completed because I was chasing a prize deadline. It’s good to get excited about things. Prizes excite me. I have only been a runner-up once, and that story was published in a national daily as an outcome. I got emails from many unknown people, telling me how my story moved them. That was fantastic. I think emerging writers can’t afford to be curmudgeons apropos prizes.
Geosi Gyasi: Which of your work was featured in “wigleaf” magazine’s best of 2012 list?
Tanuj Solanki: It was short short titled ‘Circular Movement’, first published in the now-defunct elimae. I think it’s still available online. It was probably my first publication in North America.
Geosi Gyasi: When do you often write?
Tanuj Solanki: On weekends. In the afternoon.
Geosi Gyasi: What is your greatest fear as a writer?
Tanuj Solanki: That I will stop growing, in skill, in execution, in prestige.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected for your work?
Tanuj Solanki: Of course. Many times. I take it well when it’s short stories. I don’t like it when my novels get rejected, which, sadly, has always been the case since I started submitting.
Geosi Gyasi: I learnt from somewhere online that you’re scared of airplanes. Could you comment on this?
Tanuj Solanki: It scares me that you could learn that! Yes I am. I don’t like plane rides at all. My palms start sweating. I have this instinct to put my face in a co-passenger’s lap and shut my eyes, especially during take-offs or landings.
Geosi Gyasi: Which books have had great impact on your life as a writer?
Tanuj Solanki: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest; Roberto Bolano’s Antwerp; V S Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas; Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children; Dharamvir Bharti’s Suraj Ka Satwan Ghora; Shrilal Shukla’s Sooni Ghati Ka Sooraj. The last two are in Hindi and I don’t know if translations are available.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you worry about critics when you write?
Tanuj Solanki: I do worry about how a story will be received. I have only been criticized on social media yet. There were some arbitrary Twitter attacks when I published a story in The Caravan, but that was just stupidity.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you working on anything new?
Tanuj Solanki: I’m always working on some stories and a novel / novella.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you hope to achieve with your writing?
Tanuj Solanki: I want to contribute in taking Indian writing to a post-urban-rural-divide era. And I hope that, in time to come, my contributions are taken a note of.
Geosi Gyasi: Does your family approve of your writing?
Tanuj Solanki: Yes. As long as I keep my day job.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you show your work to friends before you send them out to publishers?
Tanuj Solanki: I show it to some close friends who have read my work and know what I’m trying to do.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it difficult to write a short story?
Tanuj Solanki: Depends on the story. Writing an Alice Munro story is difficult. Writing an Etgar Keret or Paul La Farge story is relatively easy. As a rule, the easy-to-read story is difficult to write.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell us anything we don’t really know about you?
Tanuj Solanki: Despite my fear of flight, I once taught myself para-gliding for a girlfriend. It was a stupid thing to do.