Books

Ink And Insight: A Conversation With Hindi Author Neelakshi Singh

Ashutosh Kumar Thakur speaks to award-winning Hindi author Neelakshi Singh about her journey as a prominent fiction writer, her works, inspiration, and advice to young writers.

Hindi author Neelakshi Singh
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Neelakshi Singh is a contemporary Hindi author. In 2004, she won the prestigious Sahitya Academy Golden Jubilee Young Writers Award. Her story collections ‘Parinde Kaa Intezar Sa Kuchh’, ‘Jinki Mutthiyon Me Surakh Tha’, ‘Ibtida Ke Aage Khali Hi’, and novel ‘Shudhhipatra’ have been praised by literary critics. 

Neelakshi’s latest novel ‘Khela’ is acclaimed for its powerful narration and language. ‘Khela’ won the O.P. Malviya Bharti Devi Samman 2021, the KLF Book Award 2021, and the Valley of Words Award 2022. 

Neelakshi is the recipient of the Ramakant Smriti Puraskar (2002) and the Katha Award (2004). Her latest non-fiction title, ‘Hukum Desh ka Ikka Khota’, won the first Setu Pandulipi Samman (2022). At present, she is an employee with the State Bank of India and lives in Mumbai. 

Recently, Ashutosh Kumar Thakur spoke to Neelakshi about her journey as a prominent fiction writer and her works.

Q. What inspired you to start writing in Hindi?

Neelakshi: Hindi is the language of my soul. Rather, I should say that apart from it, no other language is my own. Therefore, I didn’t need inspiration from anywhere when choosing this language. When it comes to starting to write in any language, I haven’t noticed myself being consciously influenced by anyone. Naturally, there are many things happening around us of which we might not be aware. Keeping that in mind, the atmosphere at home must have influenced me.

Since childhood, I grew up in a literary environment at home and my childhood was spent in the company of Hindi literary magazines. This is probably what turned me towards reading and writing. 

Q. Were there any specific authors or literary works that influenced your early writing?

Neelakshi: I never desired to write like anyone else. I do not deny that my initial writing was influenced by my reading choices at that time. But, as is often the case in the beginning, the creative flow doesn't adhere to constraints. At the outset, I was also carefree, more focused on the thrill of expressing myself through intricate twists and turns without attempting to write with depth or in a layered style. When there is an intention to surprise others with one’s writing, there is a sense of playfulness. It might be that the urge to experiment made me want to revisit some of the writing techniques tried by others.

Q. Are there any particular books that hold special significance for you? 

Neelakshi: ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, ‘Ram Kee Shakti Puja’, and ‘Andhere Mein’ are some of my favourites.

Q. What does your creative process look like when you embark on a new writing project?

Neelakshi: I start off with the idea of ​​destroying it. I keep reassuring myself about this at every step of writing. I recognise that every time I comforted myself in this way before, I didn’t end up deleting what I wrote. It’s possible that this time, my reassurance will lead to the same fate. But still, I believe in my words and this instils in me a fearlessness that relieves any pressure. So, whenever I start writing, this belief remains at the core: the confidence to wipe away everything I’ve filled the paper with and return it to a blank canvas.

Q. Do you follow a structured routine, or do you prefer spontaneity in your writing? 

Neelakshi: I live a disciplined life. There is time discipline, but at its core is the desire to be able to gather as much time as possible to be with myself. But there is no such discipline in writing. It is a different path. When I have an idea and feel that I should write about it, then I start thinking about it day and night but keep postponing the writing process. While doing all this, when it feels like it has become a part of me, that’s when I begin writing. Once I start, I am often in a state of passion and where I am doesn't matter.

Q. What are the most rewarding aspects of being an author for you?

Neelakshi: Being a writer, one not only begets the pleasure of creating a parallel universe but sometimes also gets the pleasure of savouring an unknown world and a dark space. This is a huge achievement.

Q. Do you participate in literary events, workshops or programmes?

Neelakshi: I make a conscious effort to avoid such events. I find it difficult to connect with ceremonious occasions. Probably, it’s because I am naturally very introverted and love solitude. 

Q. What kind of response do you generally receive from your readers?

Neelakshi: I realise that readers are generally very sincere in giving their feedback. Earlier, when I started writing, it was an era of letters. To be honest, I was immersed in feeling their affection and praise. I cannot tell you exactly what their reaction was; I just know that the words written by the readers are invaluable to me and those words have always kept me alive and responsible.

Q. How do you balance traditional elements of literature with innovative storytelling?

Neelakshi: Traditional elements become a part of your thinking. They serve as a backdrop that seamlessly integrates into your narrative. When you begin writing, your inner experimentalism starts to take shape. To maintain a balance between these two, you could perhaps mentally rehearse the story scene by scene as you write. 

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Q. Do you believe it is important to experiment with new writing techniques while staying connected to the roots of Hindi literature?

Neelakshi: One should experiment, but not in a way that follows any proclamation or resolution. It should be meant for the purpose of improvisation. For instance, if I refrained from touching something the last time, I might uncover something new in that area when viewed from a different perspective.

Coming to your point, I feel that if tradition is ingrained within you, one does not need any additional effort to maintain it. In such a situation, you can naturally engage in new experiments. But there should not be any compulsion on the writer’s part to adhere to tradition, nor should there be any pressure to experiment.

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Q. Can you share any upcoming literary projects or works that you are currently working on?

Neelakshi: At present, I am writing a novel, obviously with the noble intention that it will be erased once it is completed.

Q. What advice would you give to young writers aspiring to make their mark in literature?

Neelakshi: I would like to tell new writers that they should write a lot without the pressure of greatness. Another thing that is even more important is that they should not wait for someone else to reject their writing. On the other hand, they will have to acquire the quality of rejecting their own writing. Rejecting yourself again and again keeps you in tune with your writing; this is my own experience.

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(Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is a Bengaluru-based management professional and literary critic. He can be reached at ashutoshbthakur@gmail.com)

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