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 Swati Thiyagarajan.
We believe, in making travel arrangements, we subconsciously tend to eliminate possibilities which we deem unfit to perceived etiquette 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?
Writing is a natural process. An organic one. I am not sure there are any hard rules to how it should be done. Let me start by saying that I don’t see myself as a writer. In that, I am a journalist who writes scripts of course but I write to and about pictures I have to represent my story. So all my stories had very much to do with what I saw and heard in the field. In short, what I could visually prove and back up. From this process of being a television journalist when I sat down to write a book, my book Born Wild, on my show BORN WILD, it was a struggle to put in words the pictures I now needed to paint for the people reading. In that process it was not so much what writing was not or what writing is, I merely write in a stream without censoring myself all my thoughts on the topic I was writing about. After which I went back into it, read it over and over and then started to actually write my chapter. I did that every time with every topic. So maybe in this instance, “what is not writing,” for me was to assume that I had to write from the beginning with a logical flow as opposed to writing what came to me in whatever sequential order my thoughts flowed. It was after that raw outpouring that I ordered the words into the shape I thought told the story best.
Besides writing what would you most like to be known for?
I am not sure I am known for my writing! But if there was something I would like to be known for it would be for being authentic, sincere. As my writing falls into the non fiction category its important that I am seen as someone who gets her facts right and knows her subject.
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?
I think travelling is a necessity for anyone. It opens your mind, pulls you our of your own sense of self -importance or thinking that everything you know and do is all that there is to the world. It makes you see yourself in a deeper way, because suddenly now in new places and new cultures you find out, am I adventurous, am I set in ways, am I kind, courageous, happy, open, accepting, racist, fussy, high maintenance , low maintenance, etc . Only being outside of your comfort zone and your echo chambers can you realize these truths good and bad about yourself. So of course as a writer, its important to have this honesty about yourself that travelling brings, but it’s also just generally important to have this honesty about yourself and who you are. I happen to think travelling is crucial. It need not be always a place away or a country away but even if it is outside your own comfort zone in the same place, some challenge, something new, its still travelling and its important.
Your favorite or most striking lines by another author; or if you will, any composed by yourself?
This is a hard one because I have so so many favourite lines. None of my own however, as I don’t think any of mine begin to compare with the ones I hold in highest regard. You would have notices I begin and end all my chapters with quotes. And one of my absolute favourites is “Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible god and destroys a visible nature. Unaware that the nature he is destroying is this God he is worshipping.”
Do respond to the following words:
“Wicked people never have time for reading. It’s one of the reasons for their wickedness.” ― Lemony Snicket
Well, partly true, however, I think several wicked people take to heart the lines of certain books that they read….the Bible, Quran, Torah, Gita, whatever else. Sometimes they read writings by radicals, racists, men they worship as gods etc and it fuels their narrow ideologies of hate. But yes, I think wicked people don’t read enough and widely especially anything that will challenge and call into question their beliefs. This sort of being trapped in their own little worlds and only accessing anything that enforces their little worlds is something they are really good at.
What do you think of Coldnoon?
I really enjoy the fact that it is unlike a typical travel magazine and is instead a journal that uses travel as a philosophy for both the act of travelling and the interior and exterior dialogue of life through it. To me, that is unique, and what makes it stand out. Often travel is seen as purely, where did you go, what did you do, how to do it cheaper or more expensively or adventurously or whatever, which is all great, but Coldnoon takes it beyond that to, what does it do for you, and to you. Many of its works reflect that process. Its like peeking into peoples personal diaries (with their permissions!) and not just the pleasant stuff most of us put out into the world about ourselves. That’s what I really like.