Interview with Professor & Author (Novelist, Dramatist, and Poet): Lakshmi Raj Sharma
About the Author
Lakshmi Raj Sharma teaches English at the University of Allahabad. He is well- known for his debut novel, The Tailor’s Needle which explored the British Rule in India, and furthermore for his collection of short tales (Marriages Are Made In India and Intriguing Women)
Professor Sharma had completed his formal and secondary education from Boys’ High School & College, Allahabad. He obtained his undergraduate degree from the University of Allahabad in 1975, then completed his postgraduate in 1977. He received his D Phi or honorary doctorate title from the same university in 1986. He had also qualified the Indian Civil Services but ended up choosing the path of an academic career giving proper justice to his love for literature and writing.
Professor Sharma has proved that it’s never too late to pursue what you love. He began writing fiction after the age of 45 before which he was preoccupied with serious academic research/study and writing.
“He believes that an individual who is placed in a feeble circumstance in a society or community will end up being a better storyteller than one who is properly placed or in a strong and confident position. The denied, the abused, and at times even the apprehensive or restless, can make great storytellers in a work of fiction.”
About the Book
It was first published in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2009 by Picnic Publishing Ltd., UK, and then by Penguin Books India in 2012.
At the point when the book starts, one meets Cambridge-taught Sir Saraswati Chandra Ranbakshi. He has three children — Yogendra who tries to follow the footsteps of his father, erratic Maneka, our own desi Elizabeth Bennett and Sita, as modest and accommodating as Indian women are generalized to be.
The novel portrays the story of a Brahmin family from the days in the early 1920s and 1930s, before India’s freedom in 1947.
The title, The Tailor’s Needle, has a figurative meaning.
A tailor’s needle doesn’t distinguish between pieces of clothing. Sir Saraswati tries to be similar to a tailor’s needle, one who treats all individuals the same, regardless of them being a Maharaja or beggar, Englishman, or low caste Indian. Sir Saraswati Chandra accepted that one ought to resemble “the tailor’s needle, which goes through each sort of fabric without differentiating between each other”. For him, his son appears to fit that portrayal, as Prof. Sharma depicts: “Yogendra was the happy mean between the two [Menaka and Sita]; Sir Saraswati adored him for being that, indeed, that was the tailor’s needle position.” Among the three siblings, Yogendra is the person who is adjustable in nature and versatile, has an awareness of other’s expectations and dashes of development. He is a withstanding child and enhances the Indian qualities with a receptive outlook. He is not quite the same as his sisters. Later in the book however he does evolve as an individual as well.
I saw Maneka as the most intriguing and even affable character of the lot, regardless of her unpredictable behavior. Maneka’s episode with an Englishman prompts her pregnancy before marriage, which in turn drives her to go for a risky and secret abortion. An ordinary lady would have disintegrated because of all that, yet not Maneka. Maneka had a tough personality which made her a woman way ahead of her time. Sita then again is an incredible case of how two offspring of a similar sexual orientation from a similar womb can be so different.
Perhaps the best thing about The Tailor’s Needle is the manner in which it shows and depicts the qualities and mores of those occasions in a sensible and realistic manner. Prof. Sharma has done everything he could to coordinate the storyline, occasions, and style with the characters of an India that was still in the difficulty between picking the Western lifestyle or keeping up with their conventional philosophies and civil ways of thinking. I am certain that the readers who take interest in genuine writing and serious literature will find Prof. Sharma’s work deserving of their time.
The proximity and comparison of various communities, mentalities, and qualities make the book a literary piece that can’t simply be excused so far as another regular work.
Now without further ado let’s talk to the author and try to know his journey as a writer and educator even better. 🙂
Excerpts from the interview :-
Q1) What inspired you to write The Tailor’s Needle?
Professor : I had grown up in a home where stories about the courage and ability of some exceptional people were told and retold. I heard these stories roughly between 1960 and 1986 from my father. He died in 1986. He had the art of making these stories very entertaining. He made us see the vast difference between the courage and values of the people of his father’s generation and his own generation. By the time I started writing, around 2001, people had become even more different; perhaps less caring, with less faith, and even less loyalty. I decided to put together all the true stories I had heard from my father to make up the plot of a novel. Of course, some other anecdotes and events, outside my father’s narratives were also added. I had to use little fiction as there was so much in my mind by the time I started writing. I only needed to arrange events as best I could and I had to change some names of places and people. This is how I wrote The Tailor’s Needle.
Q2) The Tailor’s Needle was your first novel. What is the backstory behind this title? What does the title mean? Is it a form of metaphor which is used for some character in the novel?
Professor : The title of The Tailor’s Needle came from advice my father often gave to me and to my brothers and sisters. He said that one should be like the tailor’s needle which passes through every cloth material without making a distinction. Yes, it is a metaphor. Sir Saraswati liked the British and the Indian cultures equally. He respected every religion sincerely. After being schooled and after getting higher education in England, he could still be very Indian in his lifestyle. He made his son, Yogendra, the perfect tailor’s needle. This term refers to the flexibility that helps people not to be too dogmatic, orthodox, and rigid. This kind of flexibility is needed in multicultural societies if they are to be successful.
Q3) Maneka is a woman of her own will. Do you agree that a Strong and Rebellious Woman Is Often Misunderstood Even by Her Own Loved Ones?
Professor : Maneka is not flexible. Her positive quality is her courage and her determination. If only she had a little flexibility like her father and brother, she too she could have had much less suffering in her life. Society, particularly in India, expects women not to be rebellious. The patriarchal order expects them to be obedient to the male order. Maneka thinks that she is smart enough to defy and defeat men. After a few successes, she begins to fail and she becomes a loser towards the end of the novel. Even her own people see her faults and distance themselves to an extent from her. It is different that she has an extraordinary father and an extra caring brother who never desert her. It is not only women but men even should not try to be smarter than they can manage comfortably.
Q4) Was it difficult for you writing characters from the perspective of the opposite gender?
Professor : I have no difficulty in creating characters of the opposite gender. When I write about a woman I am able to be that woman at that moment. When I create a man, I am able to become that man for that time. In fact, I love writing about women because I have a great deal of interest in them. I find them fascinating. One of my books is called Intriguing Women, which is a collection of twenty-three stories, each on a different woman or women. My novella, Saba and Nisha: A Love Story, is similarly about two girls who begin as friends but gradually begin to see each other’s faults.
Q5) Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?
Professor: Sir Saraswati is the one I admire most because even though he lived in the first half of the twentieth century, he is so contemporary to our own times. His values, his courage, his loyalty, his wit make him a hero indeed, a loveable hero.
Q6) What message did you want to convey to the reader through this book? Which aspect of India did you want to depict? And how can readers connect these aspects with present India in your opinion?
Professor : The main view that emerges from The Tailor’s Needle is that undue attention to one’s religion or caste is a sign of backwardness. We are human beings first and then members of a caste, religion, or nation. Besides, I wanted Indian women to know that they are no weaker than Indian men. If they really decide to outdo men in some sphere they can do that. But they shouldn’t lose their heads in the process.
Q7) Why do you love being a writer? How did you get interested in literature and creative writing? Had you thought about doing creative writing in the back of your mind at some point?
Professor : I loved artistic endeavours from my childhood. I loved to paint. I loved music and dance. I loved acting in plays and directing them. I would write a play every year for a university hostel. These plays clicked and then I began to write stories and novels. One often becomes an author because one is not very social but is something of an introvert. I grew up in a family where my brothers and sisters were smarter than me and I probably withdrew into myself and became a writer for that reason. One doesn’t think about doing creative writing, one just starts writing because without doing that one can get sick, even insane. Stories are like children that struggle to be born and the writer cannot but give birth to them.
Q8) What was your experience when you learned that language and words had power?
Professor : Being a teacher of English Literature and Language, I already knew about the power of effective language. As I read and taught Literary Theory and different authors, I gradually picked up the art of writing. I learned a great deal from Shakespeare and Dickens among other authors. My profession constantly kept me in touch with the force of fiction and poetry and I learned it without making much effort. The authors you love gradually grow on you, you don’t need to imitate them.
Q9) Being a professor of English literature and Literary Theory, what are your views on recent trends in English Literature in India.
Professor : Just as India is progressing, in the late twentieth and in the twenty-first century, in almost every field, Indian writing in English is also progressing in a parallel form. The Indian novel in English is really doing well. Some of our writers like Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, and others have made a place for themselves at the very top. It is as though the countries which have English as their mother tongue have already exhausted their talents to an extent and will rise again only when literary fashions and tastes change. The world needed a change and India and some other countries provided that change. Teaching Literature is becoming more interesting and challenging because the canvas of literature has grown tenfold and British and American literatures no longer remain the crowd pullers as they were three or four decades ago in most Indian university English departments. Today Indian writers along with writers of several other continents and countries are being read with interest and seriousness.
Q10) What are your plans in the coming future? Tell our readers here about your upcoming book: “We should all not be Feminists.”
Professor : I am currently writing the sequel to The Tailor’s Needle. It will probably come out under the title, Straightening Your Owl. We Should All Not Be Feminists: A Novel is about two feminists, an American and a Brit, who come to India to emancipate Indian women. They return to their countries after breaking up an Indian home. This novel makes a distinction between genuine and fake feminism. I have always thought about the injustice that many Indian women have suffered. And I am concerned about those who want to rise in life themselves while pretending to fight for the cause of women. This is what the story of this novel is all about.
Q11) What are common traps for aspiring writers? Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel their emotions strongly?
Professor : I think that an author should avoid writing like someone he or she admires. If you write like Rushdie you are likely to be a third rate Rushdie. Authors must try to develop their own styles and continue to write till they are noticed for their own manner of writing. Of course, we do take something from other authors unconsciously but we should be anxious not to take too much from them. Yes, no one can write well without feeling something strongly. What an author feels today may be different from what he will feel after a few years and the writing will also, therefore, be different in time. Authors evolve and mature or sometimes worsen with time. Their writing will reflect this change.
Q12) Writing can be an emotionally draining and stressful pursuit. Any tips for aspiring writers? What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?
Professor : I think creative writing helps writers to feel better. Writing is therapeutic both for the author and the reader. Writing is a stress buster. The energy that it takes is its own reward. Shakespeare tellingly said, “The labour we delight in physics pain.” This means that when we labour for something we love to do, that labour is the medicine for the pain incurred in doing it. I would never expect anyone to become a writer of substance without reading a great deal and then practicing their writing on a daily basis. Practice makes perfect and reading gives depth.
Thank you all for reading and a big thanks to Professor Lakshmi Raj Sharma for collaborating in today’s post!
It’s a pleasure!
If any of my readers here want to know more about him, his work and writings. Do open the links mentioned below. He has a wonderfully informative, articulated, and well-curated website. It has all the essential details about his upcoming projects.
Website : https://lakshmirajsharma.com/
Wikipedia Page : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakshmi_Raj_Sharma
Twitter Handle : https://twitter.com/lakshirajsharma?lang=en
Facebook Page : https://www.facebook.com/lakshmirajsharma
Quora Page : https://www.quora.com/profile/Lakshmi-Raj-Sharma