Sunday, April 22, 2007

In Conversation with Raman Mundair

Ahmede: You were born in India and grew up in the UK, can you please tell us a bit about how this is so?

Raman Mundair: My father was an economic migrant to the UK in the fifties – a time when the British were short of labour and invited people from the 'Commonwealth' to come and work in the UK . He later married and my Mother and I joined him in Manchester (UK) when I was four. Consequently I lived in Manchester until I was fifteen and then Leicestershire for several years before I went away for my university studies in London . I currently live in Scotland.

Ahmede: You are a playwright and at the same time a poet ; while writing where do you draw your inspirations?

Raman Mundair: I draw my inspiration from anything that touches, moves or inspires me. Poetry is constant in my life – I believe if you are truly awake you are never far from poetry. I write for theatre because I'm passionate about the power of words and actions on stage: the dynamic synergy of text and actor in an empty space which, when it truly works, creates a sacred conduit between the text and the audience. Drama, like poetry, has the potential for revolution. In a world where poets are frequently marginalized, drama (when produced well) can reach out and engage in a dialogue with large numbers of people across society. I also write prose and I'm currently working on a novel and short stories.

Ahmede: Born into a South Asian family, how free do you feel as a woman and a writer?

Raman Mundair: What a huge question!

Yes I am a woman.

Yes I am South Asian.

All these things are aspects of me and I have many aspects. I am also human, artist, British, Sikh, Indian etc. I find it difficult to reduce myself to one singular identity. My strength is in my multiple identities. Of course I am painfully aware of the way that some people choose to reduce my identity and see me merely as 'a woman' or just another 'South Asian writer' etc. I feel very strongly rooted and grounded in my many identities and refuse to limit myself. I of course acknowledge and experience the challenges of negotiating a world where being female and/or South Asian brings with it a whole particular set of difficulties. I have had to fight to take up my right to be, to choose, to act independently and to create.

Ahmede: Will you share your reading of South Asian writing in English with our readers?

Raman Mundair: Recently I've been reading a lot of pre-partition writing in English - particularly Sadat Hasan Manto whose piercing short stories are unforgettable and Mulk Raj Anand whose journey from Anglophile to freedom activist is visible in his work. I'm always on the lookout for contemporary writing from South Asia and on my current sojourn in Delhi (where I am an Arts Council England International Fellow at the India International Centre) I've enjoyed meeting poets and writers and reading their work. I've particularly enjoyed reading the work of the following woman writers: Rachna Joshi, Sagari Chhabra, Mandira Ghosh and Sanjula Sharma. I'm keen to read work from Bangladeshi writers also – you must advise me on what to read! I'm not particularly enamoured with much of the South Asian writing from the west because I feel that the authors we get to read and hear about offer an 'acceptable' view of 'otherness' that is palatable to the publishing industry and western readership. What I'm interested in is a wider spectrum of South Asian writing that embodies the subtleties of the many South Asian experiences both at home and in diapsora.

Ahmede: In a way, your Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves is about alienation, how alienated do you feel as a person?

Raman Mundair: I don't think of my book 'Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves' as being about alienation. I think it's more about being an 'outsider' and 'unbelonging' but in a positive sense – let me explain: I don't feel alienated as a person mainly because the older I get the more I realĂ­se that being an insider is not necessarily the best place to be for a writer, poet, artist or any creative person. I think that my outsider status allows me the possibility to transcend man-made boundaries. I am not confined by nationhood, religion or cultural expectations. I can choose to relate from the margins and observe. From this place I can start a dialogue – a conversation which I hope extends outwards to my readers.

My new collection of poems 'A Chorographer's Cartography' is actually all about the transcendence of boundaries and boundary crossing, from migration to language, and my play 'The Algebra of Freedom' (forthcoming - August 2007) continues these themes in the context of the western 'war on terror'.