Sakoon Singh Gets Candid in Outset Virtual Tête-à-tête

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Hi My Ousetians, 
It’s been a while since we have met for a tête-à-tête. To start after this long break, we have a wonderful writer. I had compared her writing style to Arundhati Roy in my review of her book In the land of a Lover.
It’s none other than Sakoon Singh. Let’s welcome her to Outset Virtual tête-à-tête

Sakoon Songh

Hi Sakoon

Welcome to our virtual tête-à-tête

 Thank you for having me. 

First and foremost, let me ask you how the current situation has changed your life?

This pandemic has been productive in terms of the retreat it has offered to writers- the many hours of unspoiled time. As for me professionally, I am now transacting my lectures online which has its set of challenges. Overall, it hasn’t been personally a gloomy phase for me; on the contrary, it has been a phase of stepping back, growth, and introspection. On the other hand, many people in these months, have been forced to see the seamier side of our systems and that has come at a huge cost. That said, one just hopes that in the interest of humanity this unprecedented phase now passes.

That’s indeed a different perspective to look at things. I have seen the same in your book as well. Have you always seen life from a different perspective? Tell us a bit about the real Sakoon Singh.

I belong to Chandigarh. Did my schooling and college here before moving to JNU, New Delhi for my MA in English Literature. I went on a Fulbright fellowship and put a year at the University of Texas at Austin, US.  Last year I did a stint at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. I have been in an active academic career and have been teaching at the Department of English, DAV College (Panjab University), Sector 10, Chandigarh. My area of research is Amitav Ghosh and Cultural Studies.

 Wow, Now I know how you could write a book that’s rich in literary value. How did you decide to write a book?

It was in 2016 that the idea of writing this book first came to my mind. A recurrent image of a young woman walking down a road on a rainy evening would come to my mind. At some point, it became critical for me to write her story. In 2017, I applied for a sabbatical from my college to devote full attention to writing. By the end of the leave period, I had my manuscript in hand and the struggle for a good publisher. The publishing industry itself works with a unique set of challenges and every book comes with its destiny. I signed the contract in November 2018 and as promised, we brought out the book in one and a half years. 

How did you come across the idea of “In the Land of Lovers?”

I was keen to tell the stories of urban Punjab- like any society, there are distinctive experiences and stories which need to be told. The book attempts to have an engagement with that ethos while highlighting the struggles happening today. And if viewed from another end, I feel literature is an act of empathy. It allows you to enter another’s experience without judgment. As far as Punjab is concerned, I feel mine is the generation that can bring these disparate threads together: memories of Partition, the experience of terrorism, and living through 1984 and now seeing the state of Punjab with its multiple problems. But over and above, is the inimitable spirit of Punjab, the land of the Sufi saints, the land that nurtured Gurbani. So it has been a personal quest too.

 I wanted to capture the many voices of this land from the past and present. One trope I have used to that end is the dialogues between “Mirasis”, the traditional performance artists, tramp like figures, as a narrative device to inject irony and wit in the novel.

In the land of lovers

How do you connect yourself with Nanaki and Beeji?

The book is a bildungsroman, which is a popular genre in European writing.  I trace the growth of the main protagonist, Nanaki. I would say just like her, the book embodies a Sufi consciousness- one that emerges out of empathy for the ‘other’, is radical, embodies a unique aesthetic, and does not forsake social responsibility. Most of all, there is hope at the heart of this book. Nanaki leads a cosmopolitan life, at the same time, is anchored to her cultural moorings, she can look through the many layers of social conditioning. And I think it is important because, in an age where social media has become so intrusive, we are tethered to the echo chambers of social validation and conformity more than ever before. Her empathy is a core character trait and I think that is what helps her understand people and situations better. These characteristics are hugely attractive to me. As for Beeji, through her, I was trying to delineate a whole generation of women in Punjab who lived through the horrors of Partition but did not get bitter. This is something that has always touched me about their spirit. 

Your narration has a poetic musing to it. Was it deliberate?

Wasn’t deliberate. I would say it is my writing style.

I felt that you could have given a little more space for Nanaki and Himmat’s romance. What is your take on it?  

Haha…I wish too. But I guess their romance is one part of the novel. As you have seen, the novel is about much else. At the end of the day, Nanaki and Himmat become allies of sorts. All lovers are allies (at least for some time, if not forever), but these two have a very defined aim, which was what was foregrounded in the novel. For now, I did not have the scope to delve into the intricacies of their relationship, which would have taken away from the thrust of the novel. 

Are you working on the next book?

Yes, I have a chunk of writing done for my next. It’ll take a good while still. 

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

If you think you have it, develop that inner dialogue with yourself. You have to work on your craft and answer the most important question- What kind of a writer you want to be? Prodigious talent is good news but it ought not to be killed prodigiously. It is good to let it grow uninhibited in the wilderness, air it, sun it before you begin training it. 

Thank you so much for your time. We are eagerly looking forward to your next book. 

That was Sakoon Singh for you. Get, connected to her through Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.
Special thanks to Rupa Publications
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