Meena Kandasamy is a poet, fiction writer, translator and activist. She has published two collections of poetry and the critically acclaimed novel The Gypsy Goddess. Her new novel, When I Hit You, is at once the chronicle of an abusive marriage and a celebration of the invincible power of art. A smart, fierce and courageous take on traditional wedlock in modern India, When I Hit You is a powerful work that’ll get you to rethink how marital relationships work in India.
Do you write everyday? When and where do you write?
No, I don’t. I write when I’m working on something — like a novel, or an article — otherwise, I spend a large part of the day reading, either online, or books. When I write varies greatly — when I’m in India, I mostly work through the night and catch up on my sleep during the day. There’s something about night-time silence that allows me to concentrate. Here (in London), I write during the day — either at the local Costa, or sitting in bed. Sometimes though, I’m wide awake in the middle of the night, overthinking something, and then I slip away to another room, turn on the lights and write out whatever it is that’s eating me, that I’m trying to say or formulate into words, and then I tiptoe back into bed.
Do you listen to music while writing? What’s on your playlist at the moment?
I’m tone-deaf — something I knew all along, but which was confirmed quite recently. You really don’t want to be listening to anything that I listen to! Every once in a while, I use something like Noisli to give me rain/ocean sounds in the backdrop — and then I turn it off after three or four minutes because it feels so fucking pretentious.
What’s your go-to site for distracting yourself while writing? Or do you not browse the internet while writing?
No — when I’m writing seriously, I turn the flight mode on. I don’t log on unless I have to research something, or look up something. Also, I don’t write directly on the computer all the time–often it is in a journal, which I then transfer and restructure when I put it onto the laptop.
Do you have any pre-writing rituals or superstitions?
No. But when I was still living with my parents, I developed the habit of telling everyone at home that I was going to try and write — which usually meant that they had to ignore me, or not call me to check on the curry or open the door or whatever errand it is that parents trouble their children with! Since I only wrote at night that didn’t happen often at all — perhaps once in a week or ten days — but that has now become a habit. I keep telling Cedric (my partner) that I’m going to write as if I’m announcing the arrival of a carnival — and even when I’m alone at home, I need to tell that to myself often enough.
I’ve never had a proper, decent, worktable or desk — this is what I and Cedric share. The typewriter that you see there, an Olivetti Lettera 32, is absolutely there for aesthetic purposes, I haven’t used it yet. Otherwise, there’s my diary and loads and loads of pens. It’s the kind of corner you retreat into and forget everything else.
You’re the bartender, and V.S. Naipaul, Margaret Atwood and Karl Marx walk in together. What would you serve them?
Something sufficiently strong that knocks out VS Naipaul for a good two hours, so that I can talk to Atwood and Marx in peace without fear of Naipaul taking notes of each of our quirks. For Atwood and Marx, I’d give them good old Old Monk.
If you could travel in time to one particular moment and change history, where would you go?
I would still leave the dinosaurs around. That would be so much fun.
If you were stranded on a deserted island [without a Kindle], which three books would you like to have with you?
The Arabian Nights since that’s so many stories at once; Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and possibly a book of poetry. At the moment, I’m thinking of Kamala Das.