Tabish Khair is a renowned Indian author. He was born in 1966 in Ranchi (then part of Bihar, now the capital of Jharkhand) and grew up in his hometown, Gaya. He is the author of various books, including the poetry collections. His honours and prizes include the All India Poetry Prize (awarded by the Poetry Society and the British Council) and honorary fellowship (for creative writing) of the Baptist University of Hong Kong. His novels have been shortlisted for nine prestigious prizes in five countries, including the Man Asian Literary Prize and the Encore Award, and translated into several languages. Khair now lives and teaches in Denmark.
What compelled you to write? Did you always want to write? Did someone encourage your choice?
I think people write for different reasons, but for me this was the only thing I ever really wanted to do. I did not know how to go about it and had to grope my way for years, but at least from early secondary school onwards I wanted to write. I still tell young writers that writing is not a career, but it is a vocation.
How do you decide on what to write? How do you choose the story line?
How do you choose the characters? Do they take inspiration from real life?
For me the theme (not the plot, which comes later), the setting and the narrative voice or main character comes first. The rest of it follows.
What are the children books that you have done?
I am not really a ‘children’s writer.’ It is a very specialized and difficult field. But I have told stories to my children, and Zubaan decided to publish an illustrated version of one of my stories some years ago: It is called ‘The Glum Peacock’ and was shortlisted for an award or two. It is meant for children between 3 and 6. I also wrote a novel, published as ‘Jihadi Jane’ by Penguin in India, which has been taught as Young Adult (YA) fiction in USA and UK.
Are you planning any books for children? Can you tell us a little about them?
My oldest daughter is illustrating a story that I wrote for my children some years ago. It is called ‘The Dragon Who Couldn’t Brag on.’ Let’s see….
What do you do when you are not writing? What are your hobbies?
Writing is something you can only do well if you do not quit living. I like living.
Do you prefer being a teacher or a writer?
It is hardly a choice. Teaching gives me a regular a salary, which leaves me free to write what I want – but cuts into my time. I could be a full-time writer, but then I would have to write to make regular money – and I prefer not to do that. I would much rather earn my living doing something else, so that I do not need to compromise on my writing.
What is your message for today’s children and the budding writers?
Think. But you can only think if you also learn to see and listen. Like thinking, seeing and listening do not come on their own.
What is one message that you would want to give this world through your books?
Do not make the world a narrower place than it is.