In September-October, 2017, Coldnoon celebrated six years of publishing, and travelling with you. To mark our anniversary, we got together with writers, intellectuals and stalwarts of the art of thinking (and travelling). Here is an interview with Nabina Das.
We believe making travel arrangements, we subconsciously tend to eliminate those possibilities which we deem unfit to perceived etiquettes, or norms or occasions. Our understanding of travel is based on premises that define what travelling is not. Is writing for you a similar activity, where you are conscious of what writing is not? If so, what according to you is not writing?
You’re right where you seem to draw a parallel between writing and traveling. It’s always an embarkation. To begin writing is to begin a journey — to look for that road, that sudden dead end, or the liberating horizon. But for me the similarity ends there. For me writing, at so many levels, is being a flaneur. Take an amble, see what lies at the road’s bend, and then be surprised. The real travel for me is not the travel that is meticulously planned, but the one that befalls you, if I may say so! On the Konkan Railway years ago, a landslide stalled us on the tracks for 20 hours. What ensued is a casual walk around of the topography, if a little hesitatingly, and eating vada paav off local vendors. This ‘travel’, and this ‘destination’ triggered feelings that a regular planned voyage perhaps would not have. This is perhaps what John Steinbeck meant when he said, “People don’t take trips, trips take people.”
Having said that, writing is still a habit. As walking is. Almost routine, performed at given times. And within all that is also contained what one might call ‘not writing’. It’s not an opposition. To me, they even seem to be more than just mutually inclusive Venn diagrams. More like concentric circles, one begins or ends from the other. When I look at my old files in the computer — yes, I do save a lot of old stuff — at times ‘not writing’ type pieces make more sense to me than normal writing. I like to be in a such an enmeshed state, a Borgesian state of interpretations. The madness of Aleph.
Besides writing what would you most like to be known for?
The girl who loves dragons and tattoos? But never actually meets or gets one! Jokes apart, I’d like to be known as someone who lives life like fiction, often in fragments of imagination, not figment. Most definitely, I’d not want to be known too well. Public posturing is understandable in today’s age of instant communication and digital dramatics, but public intrusion into who I am is a disconcerting thought. I’m too private a person for that. It’s better that people know me as a traveler of spaces, to use a travel imagery — one who walks around the neighborhoods at night and detests the idea of a neighborhood watch.
In 1794, the French author, Xavier de Maistre, wrote the renowned book, Voyage Around my Room, during a month and a half of solitary confinement, in consequence of a duel. Besides being a satire on the contemporary literary culture of voyages and adventures of colonial sailors to prospective new worlds, the book proved to be a demonstration of how an individual is almost always travelling, but perhaps does not recognize the value of their domestic travels, mobility or even touristic acquisitions. How do you see or understand travelling? Do you think it is a necessary activity for a writer?
Traveling is not a necessary activity at all for a writer. Yet we travel in our heads, in our spaces of imagination, in our fights and loves. A well known film maker — was it Fellini, can’t remember — once said that if he took a round of his apartment or street, he’d know enough about the whole of Paris. In real life, I seem to travel quite a bit, in the conventional sense. My writing also happens from station to station or airport to airport. But the real travel is always occurring in the realm of fantasies and fueled more by the desire that Susan Sontag expressed. The desire to “travel everywhere” and the “list” of spaces grow inward and outward. My touristic acquisition, accordingly, is mostly in terms of sights, smells and flavors. A few material things some times, if I remember to shop.
Your favorite or most striking lines by another author; or if you will, any composed by yourself?
Impossible to list lines from only one author. I have so many! But these days, in the current political environment, Brecht comes to mind:
In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.
During my university days we sang these lines in Hindustani, and was amazed at the power they hold over the audience/readers.
Do respond to the following words:
“If you can’t annoy somebody, there is little point in writing.” — Kingsley Amis.
Without diluting the gravitas of the above quote, a Facebook meme — since we’re in the age of social media — comes to my mind. It says: “Darling you can’t make everyone happy. You’re not Biriyani.”
What do you think of Coldnoon?
The magazine is a treat with its unusual treatment of themes around travel and allied topics. Invariably when I started exploring Coldnoon, Dr. Seuss came to my mind. ‘Oh the places you’ll go!’ became the password to my pleasures in delving into Coldnoon’s heartwarming spread.