Author and translator Arshia Sattar, and poet and novelist Jeet Thayil, chose this year’s Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2017 shortlist from 47 titles submitted for consideration. Arudpragasam’s book was selected from among five other books on the shortlist, namely Leila by Prayaag Akbar, South Haven by Hirsh Sawhney, How I Became a Tree by Sumana Roy, Maid In India by Tripti Lahiri, and These Circuses that Sweep Through the Landscape by Tejaswini
At the Delhi event, the author was in conversation with another writer, Mridula Koshy. Arudpragasam lives between Colombo and New York, where he is completing a dissertation in philosophy at the Columbia University.
About Arudpragasam’s book, Koshy said, “It has been an interesting read for me, as such books matter to me because they take up the question of literature.”
On being asked by Koshy about his engagement with the characters of the book, chiefly Dinesh and Ganga, Arudpragasam said, “These people [characters] I was writing about are so far from my life. I am living in a much more fortunate situation, I was away from the massacres that happened in 2008, 2009. These people were very very far from me. One of the project of the novel was to try to get closer to these people, try to understand their situation from my situation which was very far from mine. ”
According to Arudpragasam, the mood of the novel becomes the mode of your life to some degree. “In the writing I do, where even if I focus on a moment and I stretch it out over the course of the time, I allow the novel do what it should do.”
He said that writing the female character in the book, who is named Ganga, was an onerous task from a male perspective.
Rohini Mohan, who won the coveted Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize in 2015, for her own novel set in Sri Lanka, The Seasons of Trouble, has lauded The Story of a Brief Marriage. “Anuk has taken what is actually a sliver of a story, the briefest of moments, and suffused it with meaning. His spare, meditative writing lets the pain and delirium of conflict unfold, sometimes just through an injured bird.”
“I do a lot of revision. I recall an incident right now. Once during school, I was taken to Gobi Desert where we saw a certain rock formation glistening with sand. I was told that this is due to the attrition of wind. The wind has brought many thousand particles of sand from probably a long distance and now glistens. This is what exactly revision for me is. I go through the text till it achieves this perfect final quality.”
Arudpragasam at present is on the verge of completing his PhD in philosophy from the United States of America. He said, “I applied to a PhD programme where I was given a funding for seven years. I had no interest in academics. I wanted to use this time as much as I could to write.”
He said he knew that he wanted to be an author in his early 20s. “I was reading quite a lot of books on philosophy in order to find answers about life. But sometime, when I was 21-22, I realised that philosophy can’t provide me with the much-needed answers. It was literature I needed to look at for those queries about life. Literature could respond to me because I feel it is connected to real life.”
“Probably most of my time I spend with my text is through revision,” said Arudpragasam, on being quizzed about his writing process by Guardian 20. “I do a lot of revision. I recall an incident right now. Once during school, I was taken to Gobi Desert where we saw a certain rock formation glistening with sand. I was told that this is due to the attrition of wind. The wind has brought many thousand particles of sand from probably a long distance and now glistens. This is what exactly revision for me is. I go through the text till it achieves this perfect final quality.”
The Story of a Brief Marriage will also be translated into French, German, Dutch and Italian.