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*If You Are Afraid of Heights* author Raj Kamal JhaAn Interview with
Raj Kamal Jha

Interviewer Luan Gaines: What was your inspiration in writing these stories?

Raj Kamal Jha: Symbolism is key to the stories of Amir and Mala because these stories are, in themselves, about story-telling. About the power of imagination, the tools of creativity that all of us have and use in our daily lives, sometimes wittingly sometimes unwittingly. In our dreams, in our thoughts, in our lies and half-truths. Itís about how liberating this power can be.

The Paradise Hotel is an anomaly in the Maiden. Why are people in awe, rather than resentful of those who live there?

One, there is a certain fatalism --- the fact that the rich stay rich, the poor stay poor and thatís the way it is, thatís the way it will be. Although over the last ten years in India, especially in the cities, this fatalism is also being laced with a certain sense of optimism. Itís tentative, itís unsure, but thereís no escaping it.

Two, there is a very natural, breathless inquisitiveness about Paradise Park. This structure that looks like no other. We all have it in us, this need to stop and stare at something that doesnít fit in the frame.

Rima is present in Amirís dreams, watching and non-judgmental, a creature that lives only in the present. Does Amir ever question this or worry about her leaving? Why/ why not?

Yes, he does. Very much, you can feel the loneliness. But at the same time, when she walks away, he lets her go because he knows this is not an attachment that is sustaining, this is a fancy that dropped by for a while and he has to let go, if only to keep it alive. To return to the reality of his wife and his daughter.

Raj Kamal Jha's *If You Are Afraid of Heights*Although your prose reads like a fable, you do not shirk from showing the ugly side of life. Is it important to acknowledge both sides?

Yes, yes, yes. If there is one thing that my job at the newspaper teaches me every night and itís a lesson I need every night, because I often slip up, itís this: that there are two, three, many sides to a story and while, of course, you cannot do justice to each side, the least that you can do is to tell yourself that your side isnít the only side.

You tell your stories conspiratorially, almost hypnotically, even the difficult parts. Did you intend the sense of intimacy created?

I am not aware of that in a direct way. The worlds in the story are tiny, private worlds. Of a mother, a daughter and a father, in a tiny house. I donít think I had to work hard to bring that sense of intimacy but, yes, what was important was to ensure that this intimacy doesnít close in, that in that cramped space, there still is room for flights of fancy.

What is the symbolism of the Maidan and that it has remained untouched, except for the building of the Paradise Hotel?

I guess itís the whole idea of change in a city that has an inertia, 16-million-people and thousands of years strong. A change that, in its very nature, combines the awareness of both prosperity and inequity.

The crow appears in each story, capable of seeing everything. What does the presence of the crow portend?

The crow is many things, it is the storyteller, itís the narrativeís vehicle, itís the eye that we all want to have but will never have, an eye that looks at everything from up above, that can go behind corners, look through every window, press flat against every wall. And because in the book, the crow is strong enough to carry a man across the city and the town, this is a crow with magic as well.

The young girl in the red dress touches each of the stories. Do her tears suggest the loss of innocence or fear of the unknown?

Both and a million other things as well.

Raj Kamal Jha's *The Blue Bedspread*Unpredictability is everywhere, especially noticeable in the power blackouts and water shortages. How critical is the acceptance of these limitations?

Itís very important. Because the acceptance of these limitations needs a certain sense of accommodation, a flexibility, a certain generosity of the heart and the mind. And this, in turn, is the trigger for imagination.

With Rima, Amir appears to be a simple, gentle man, but he has many faces, after all. Is this not a common trait, acting differently in other situations, with other people?

Certainly. Maybe one day they will have a name for it. The Multiple-Personality Order.

There is a sense of the ominous in the town when Mala, the reporter, is researching the young girlĎs death. Why?

Itís in Malaís head, itís in front of her eyes, this filter through which she sees everything in the town. This filter is about death, rape, her own memories, her fears, real and imagined. And the rain fogs it further.

Do you have any advice for would-be writers?

Every time I sit down and look at the blank screen, I am a would-be writer, very short on advice.


RAJ KAMAL JHA is author of If You Are Afraid of Heights and The Blue Bedspread. He was born in 1966 and grew up in Calcutta. After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, he received his master's in journalism from the University of Southern California. He lives in New Delhi, where he is an editor at The Indian Express, a national newspaper..

Contributing reviewer Luan Gaines interviewed Raj Kamal Jha, author of If You Are Afraid of Heights (see accompanying review), about his book via email for curledup.com. This text is the property of Luan Gaines and the author for whom it is intended. No part may be reproduced without permission. Luan Gaines/2004.

 

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