In Conversation with Jerry Pinto

Jerry Pinto (born 1966) is a Mumbai-based Indian writer of poetry, prose, and children's fiction in English, as well as a journalist.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

  1. I like fried fish.
  2. I have farmer’s feet.
  3. I have several false teeth.
  4. I have never lived in any city, other than the one in which I was born, for more than three months.
  5. As a child, I wished to be many other people. I have no evidence that these wishes were not granted.
  6. I cannot sing.
  7. I have an online bio-data on but it is very out of date.

Having juggled fiction, non-fiction, children’s fiction, poetry, as well as a semi-autobiography, what was the most challenging genre for you as a writer?
The challenge is not the genre. I don’t even think in genres. I think in words. So there’s the challenge: the word. It’s such a big thing, a word. (The bigger the words, the smaller they are, by the way.) Now I want to take this ordinary word and I want to make it do extraordinary things. I want it to jump through hoops for me. I want to make it new. But how do I know what’s new if I don’t know what’s old? How do I write a new poem about a tiger if I don’t know the take William Blake, the God-flogged Flake had on the cat? So the challenge is there: in the word, in its workings, in the connections words make with each other.

Em and The Big Hoom was published after several drafts were scrapped. How difficult is it to overcome laziness and write, scrap and rewrite?
The most difficult thing in the world is to read your stuff and see that it is shoddy. I discovered that I have an almost infinite capacity to write badly but in between I did turn out some good stuff, and I think I managed to put that good stuff into Em and the Big Hoom. But difficult doesn’t even begin to describe the struggle.

According to George Orwell, the four main motivations of a writer are: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose. Would you agree with these?
He was obviously a rich man. What about money? Eh? These colonial types, I tell you!

What are your motivations as a writer?
I don’t have motivations. I have compulsions. I have a confession about my compulsions. I like writing. I want to write. I am happy when I write. I am unhappy when I don’t write. If I don’t write for several days— and this happens because there are also many other things I love doing which I do—then it comes out fat and fast and furious and [fornicative?], and I love it and then I let it lie and I read it and I watch it die and I start again after the grief recedes and I wipe the phlegm off my [cherkles?].

Do you agree that reading among today’s youth is a ‘dead habit’?
Answer 1. Yes. Poor babies. Zombies, the lot of them. Buried in their mobile phones. Never mind. They don’t know what they’re missing and it doesn’t really matter.
Answer 2. No. Reading is increasing among the young. More and more books are being bought.
Answer 3. I don’t care. Reading is alive for me.
Answer 4. All of the above.

As a writer yourself, and as a reader, which writer do you admire greatly? What does a great piece of writing look like to you?
I admire Mahatma Gandhi. He wrote a lot. He was silent one day a week. He made mistakes and he admitted he made them. He didn’t write magazine articles. He wrote the whole magazine. He answered questions, so he was interactive before interactive became a buzzword. You could tell him about your piles or your philosophical quandaries which he took seriously, and answered to the best of his knowledge.

While translating works from one language to another, how much is really ‘lost in translation’? Does each language have its own flavour and tone that another language cannot do justice to?
I often say that translating is like furiously rowing a boat made of salt across a river. You know that when you arrive on the other side you will have lost much of the boat, but you try your best because some of the savour will survive the ride and that makes it worth it. Because if we didn’t need translation, it would be because we would all have only one language, and what a great tragic loss that would be. Better if there be some loss in translating between languages than the complete loss of languages between which to lose things.
And as for the second part of that question, of course it does. And so what? Belgian French is probably very different from French French and even more difficult from English. Didn’t stop you from enjoying Tintin, did it?

Is Schrodinger’s cat dead or alive?

Any strange habits as a writer?
Writing is a strange habit, no? Strange enough to make up for everything else.

Do you believe in the butterfly effect?
I have been known to flutter by.

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