Anosh Malekar is an award-winning journalist based in Pune, Maharashtra, who prefers the narrative form to write detailed, well-researched stories about ordinary people living on the margins of mainstream society. Maleker was resident editor of Pune Mirror, a tabloid published by The Times of India group. He has also held senior editorial positions at The Indian Express and The Maharashtra Herald in Pune. After a career spanning 27 years, Malekar quit going to an office a few months ago and hopes to become a full-time writer of non-fiction, narrating the ordinary lives in India’s villages and small towns.
Could you inform the readers a little bit more about your work?
It was a strange coincidence, as narrated in the story, that led me to Kidiyad during the Gujarat riots in 2002. The violence was overwhelming and one could have easily missed the human story, reducing it to a mere statistic in the course of reporting. But after having landed in the village six months after the killings, I never left and kept revisiting Kidiyad. I also stayed there for a few days in 2010 and realised how difficult it is for the victims to recall, rather relive, the ordeal. It took years for them to tell me what they really went through. This is their story, of loss and pain, and unending misery. Somebody had to tell it to the outside world.
Please tell us something about your early years and major influences on you. What inspires you still?
I was born in western Maharashtra and spent my early years in the villages and towns of the region before arriving in Pune to pursue college education. My father who nurtured my love of books continues to inspire though he is no more. ‘Bangarwadi,’ a popular Marathi novel by Vyankatesh Madgulkar about shepherds in a drought-hit village in the district I come from, was an early influence that made me realise the importance of literature in our lives. What inspires me? Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood– “I thought that Mr Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.” You’re going to have to put in a lot of hard work before achieving a fraction of that.
What difference does writing make to your life? Do you think you’ll move on to other story formats in your future?
I won’t know yet. Being a journalist rushing from one assignment to another all these years, there was hardly the time to sit back and think. But what I love to do is travel and meet people, and tell their stories. Our highest calling as journalists is to describe it as it is. But I can see there are certain limitations here, and I may have to turn to other story formats in future.
Did you face any challenge while writing this piece?
The biggest challenge was to get out of the comfort zone, and I don’t mean this in a literal sense. There’s always the job with a good pay packet, family time, friends and the city life. You’ve to chuck it all and prepare yourself for the long haul, pack your bags and get moving. Investing time and energy, and the money (which vanished when you quit the job), is easier said than done. So far as the reporting challenges are concerned, journalists know how to work their way around them.
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
Halfway through journalism, when I realised the need for going beyond the 500 word newspaper report or 2000 word magazine feature written under pressure to meet deadlines.
Is there a preferred time of the day when you get your writing done?
I start around 7 in the morning after my wife has left for work and I am done with the newspapers. It’s really difficult and I am lucky if I am still at it when she’s back from work. Most days I give up around lunch time, and then turn to reading or cycling to overcome the guilt.
How much of this story is fictionalized?
The entire story is as it was narrated to me by the villagers.
Can you suggest some books for our readers that you think are must reads?
Bangarwadi, which is available in English and Hindi. Bruce Chatwin’s What Am I Doing Here, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Alan Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country. Must read!
How was your experience with the Juggernaut Writing Platform?
It’s still sinking in. The Kidiyad manuscript was with me for nearly a decade. I sent it to a few publishers. Nothing happened. Then one morning, a fortnight ago, I decided to log in and upload it on the Writing Platform. It was up there within a couple of hours. And, here we are. It’s an open, democratic space for anybody wanting to write, seriously. It’s that small window you’ve been looking for when all doors are closed.