Interview with Sushma Joshi

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Sushma Joshi is a writer and filmmaker from Kathmandu, Nepal. Her book ‘The End of the World’ was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award.

1) What does writing mean to you? When did you start to write and why? Who were your inspirations?

When I was around 12, an English teacher in Mahendra Bhawan severely beat a friend of mine with a stick for making spelling mistakes. She had big red welts on her legs.  I wrote a rhyming poem about how horrible the teacher was immediately afterward because I was so angry. This was my first piece of creative writing at least the one I remember. I also remember I tried to transcribe Archie comics into novel form when I was around the same age! I also started to write books about boarding school like I was Enid Blyton, but I couldn’t go beyond a few pages.

I read almost the entire British Library collection from between the age of 9 to 18, so my inspirations are mostly British writers. Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters comes to mind.

Writing has always been a source of strength for me. It’s a vocation. I write for my own selfto understand the inner and outer worlds. And to feel alive, in the same way people practice meditation.

2) Does writing come naturally to you or is it a painful process? Often young writers hang up their pen on the way—do you think writing is a repetitive exercise like sports? How do you maintain your writing momentum?

Writing comes easily to me. It’s a daily practice. If a sport is about deeply engaging with one’s inner being, trying to understand the nature of mind, then writing is like sports.

Keeping a diary is the writers equivalent of the athletes daily run.

3) So you prefer fiction to poetry. Why is that? And what has really made your writing mature?

I’ve written fiction. I’ve always written poetry too, although I guess it’s more personal and I don’t share it in the same way since I don’t think of myself as a poet. A book of poetry that I wrote titled Garden Poems has just been translated into Japanese and is now available on Kindle.

4) What does it mean to be a female writer in Nepal? Your experiences on getting financial stability through writing—is it a sane approach?

Being female in Nepal is difficult in general for writers as well as others. I am not part of Nepali professional networks of writers since I write in English. So it is definitely a solitary pursuit. I have a few good friends who also write, which provides companionship. Solitude can be conducive to the writing practice though.

I have always worked at multiple jobs research, writing, and filmmaking—to make a livelihood. As they say: Hold on to your day job till you are fully sure you can support yourself through writing.

5) As a widely traveled writer, do you think writings coming out from Nepal are geographically bounded? What approaches and theories have you implemented in your writings?

I have now traveled to 16 countries. I did write short pieces about Italy, America, and Mumbai. But to write an entire book you need more time. It occurred to me last summer, when I was in Paris, that I would like to write a small book about Paris. Specifically, about the people I knew, rather than the place by itself. People are more interesting than places. Of course, I was there for too short a time to get it done. But I hope Ill have the opportunity to write this at some point in my life. I also have a book about New York in my head. One day I have to write that book too.

6)  You’re also a filmmaker, playwright, and an artist. Being multitalented, what do you call yourself or like to be remembered in coming days?

I’ve made two documentaries and two short films, so I don’t know if that qualifies me to be a filmmaker. I would do it more if I had access to funds, but filmmaking is an expensive business. Even worse than making a film is marketing it. And I’m not very good at business. I’ve made art—a long time back. So I think you can call me someone who dabbles in art. I’m primarily a writer. Or at least, that’s what I’m trying to convince myself.

7) Can you tell us briefly about *The End of the World*? What about your forthcoming novel?

The End of the World collects stories I wrote from 1991 to 2005. I think those stories reflect the time and place, as Nepal shifted in time through different political landscapes. But my primary aim was to capture the lives of people, not politics.

My forthcoming novel is about Nepal’s civil conflict. I wrote it quite a while back but finding a publisher is taking some time. I hope it will come out soon.

8) Do you think women can write better than men? How do you deal with the stereotypes? Your five favorite women writers.

I think Jane Austen describes the intimate lives of her characters better than the male writers of her time. However, this doesn’t mean she’s a better writer, but just that her life was more circumscribed than her male peers. She spent more time in these situations than the men did. The men were probably out playing sports. I think men are equally capable of accessing the inner worlds of their characters-witness Jonathan Franzen. But then he had to sit in a room for eight years with industrial strength headphones on his head, so maybe it is more difficult for men to listen and access the voices of their characters.

My five favorite women writers: Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Maxine Hong Kingston, Anais Nin, Jeanette Winterson.

9) How do you see your struggles and achievements? Your greatest career pride?

I think most writers struggle with lots of obstacles—financially, creatively, etc. Otherwise, they wouldn’t write. Do you know anyone with a stunningly easy life who chooses to be a writer? Partially, writing is therapy. Partially, writers intentionally make their lives more difficult in order not to lose their muses.

As I get older, I have become more spiritual. The idea of achievement has shifted from how I imagined it 10 years back. I understand that things happen (or don’t happen) for a purpose. When something doesn’t happen, I always feel it’s because the universe has something other in store for me.

My greatest career pride was going online and finding that someone had translated my story in Vietnamese. It was in a site with exclusively Vietnamese writers, and I was the only foreigner. It moved me because it made me realize that being a writer was not about getting an agent, or breaking into the publishing world. Being a writer is to be able to make the human connection and write a story that can speak to another human being, thousands of miles away, despite the language difference.

10) What suggestions do you have for aspiring writers?

Keep writing. Enjoy the process. See the beauty in it. Love it as a vocation rather than a job. As Goenkaji, who teaches Vipassana meditation says:  ‘’start again. start again’’.