Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Any Writer Must Also Be A Re-Writer"

Kiran Khalap is an Indian writer and author. He co-founded Chlorophyll Brand Consulting. His travel writing is publishing in Man’s World. Kiran Khalap won the Indo-UK Asian Age short story competition in the year 1995. He has also authored the book Two Pronouns and a Verb.

'Halfway Up The Mountain' is the story of Maya, who hails from a village and belongs to a traditional family. Although she comes across as a simple girl, Maya fights adversities and many-a-heartbreak with conviction and an unassuming courage. The men in her life that she gets the closest to abandon her but she lives through all these trying times as an independent, free and successful human being. What strikes the most about her is the humane side and how she manages to live in a society which doesn't appreciate the integrity of single independent women. While unraveling the story of Maya, the author subtly brings out other elements like homosexuality, sexual politics, painting, poetry and music, and all this in an Indian context. Although we like the idea of a modern India, certain insensitive practices and mind-set still seem to prevail in our society and the book deals with them all in a brilliant story-telling elegance.

To read the full review of 'Halfway Up The Mountain', click here.

Congratulations Kiran for your novel ‘Halfway Up The Mountain’. It was a pleasure reading it, and as mentioned in my review, has all the ingredients to be labeled as a modern day classic. Knowing more about you, and the book would be an added bonus. In case you find any question offensive, you can skip it. I apologize in advance for such instances.

Tell us about yourself – your childhood and your family. 

When I was born (my father told me this story) my parents lived in one half of a 10 feet x10 feet room in Girgaon Mumbai: it was sunless, so he named me Kiran.

I had an enviably happy childhood. Even today, my school friends refer to my home as the Sanctuary of Happiness: my dad had a great sense of humour; my mom was great at cooking coastal food and homemade sweets.

My father was an auto-didact: he became one of the top commercial artists in India without the benefit of school, college or art school. He was my biggest influence, my closest friend.

I studied in a school Chembur, a suburb of Mumbai, then graduated in chemistry from SIES College Sion and then became a teacher in a J Krishnamurti school in Benaras: I was just 20 when I made this decision. 

J Krishnamurti was the second biggest influence in my life.

I taught in Rajghat Besant School, as it was known, for four years.  

As a housemaster, I also looked after students, who were barely five or six years younger to me:-) I taught everything I knew: calligraphy, judo, gymnastics, swimming, rock climbing, English grammar, science, quizzing...

Why and when did you decide to become a writer?

I did not decide to become a writer. 

Writing came as naturally to me as breathing. I think of this ability as ‘not mine’, I am a vehicle for this gift.

My non-fiction articles were published in newspapers and magazines even while I was in college.

But when I won the Indo-UK Asian Age Short Story competition in 1995, I realised that my fiction writing could also connect with readers (at least some of them!).

When I started my own consultancy, chlorophyll, in 1999, there was a sense of entrepreneurship and release...and along with that a need to do things I had left behind. I got back to rock climbing, one of my three passions, and started on Halfway Up the Mountain. 

Today I see the act of writing is an act of sharing.

‘Here is what I have experienced, here is what I have discovered as valuable for human beings, do you want to experience that same sense of liberation?’ 

That is what I want I want my books to say. 

I want to write about light, not about darkness. 

I want to write about the unchanging aspects of man, not about the changing.

How was the entire journey of ‘Halfway Up The Mountain’, right from the inception of the idea to the publication of the paperback?

It began with confusion, as would be the case for any first time writer. 

In 1999 the web wasn’t as rich as it is today, so my attempts to find a literary agent online were fruitless. 

Then my friend N Chandar referred me to Jayapriya Vasudevan, India’s first literary agent. 

She changed my life as an author. I call her ‘the most skilled literary obstetrician’! and joke that she has no other organs in her body except a giant heart! She is passionate about everything she does. 

She liked the book so much she said, “Kiran I want to publish it myself.”

That’s how her firm, Jacaranda, published it first in 2003 in India. I was glad that the launch was done by one of India’s finest writers, the late Arun Kolatkar, who was my father’s hero.

Then in 2005, Marion Boyars, publishers of the famous Ken Kesey book ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, published it in UK and US.

I visited those countries and read from my book: it was a different experience, being interviewed on BBC and ITV New York; explaining concepts of advaita; answering extremely knowledgeable audiences.

Later I also read from the book in Beijing and Singapore, encouraged (and hosted) as usual by Jayapriya Vasudevan.

‘Halfway Up The Mountain’ narrates the life of a woman in the society. What influenced you to take up this topic as the plot of your novel?

My mother used to fall ill intermittently in Mumbai, so our family worked out an arrangement: my female cousins, whose families were in villages, would stay with us to help her with the housework and in the bargain get educated in good schools. 

I used to wonder what happened to them when they returned to the village.

And conversely, what would happen to them if they stayed on? 

Then I learnt the concept of ecological refugees: human beings who had to leave because their own villages and cities could not sustain them. That is how the character of Maya was born.

Since the novel is set between 1936 and 1979, it had to reflect the big shifts in the life of the nation along with Maya’s: India being born; Maharashtra being born; Indian artists going abroad to learn the Western narratives of art and so on. 

So Maya has to bear the brunt of casteist and patriarchal attitudes from those years; though I assume some women even today suffer the ignominy of being treated as chattel.

In Benaras, I had learnt the Atmashatakam by Adi Shankaracharya, and I thought, the very idea of a shloka flowering within a girl as she turns into a woman was unique.

What are your other published works, and what projects are you currently working upon?

My second novel ‘Two Pronouns and a Verb’ (which translates as ‘I love you’ ‘She hates him’ or ‘Who am I?”) was published by Amaryllis in 2012. 

Here I have used ayurveda as a leit motif. Ayurveda says there are three key psychosomatic constitutions, and these affect the way each individual perceives reality. So I thought of three friends, representing three constitutions, interpreting the same reality differently.

I got some heart-warming responses to the book: they are all on www.kirankhalap.com

My third book is ‘Black River Run’: I haven’t finished it yet. Black River refers to the tar road; so the protagonist is a taxi driver, who is influenced by Swami Samarth Ramdas, probably the only human being representing evolution at all three levels: body, mind and spirit.

So Buva, the protagonist, attempts to live like him, but his passengers and his neighbours create circumstances that trap him.

When you are not writing, how do you spend your time?

My day job is a brand consultant; my night job is writing; my weekend job is hiking or rock climbing:-) 

Who are your role models in life?

My only role model is my father: he created his life with what he had; he never complained about circumstances. He was cracking jokes with me even when he lay on death bed, paralysed by Parkinson’s. 

I also have great respect for Babasaheb Ambedkar, whose achievements transcended his life circumstances. 

Had you not been a writer, what would you have been?

Travel writer-cum-photographer-cum-rock climber. Take one large van to live in, two dogs, two cats (one wife if she wants to join in:-)), go to exotic rock climbing destinations, shoot photographs, write about them. (I have written quite a few travel articles of Man’s World magazine).

What would be your message to the aspiring writers?

My identity is not linked to what I do, so inside my head, I am just a human being attempting to reach the next level of evolution, not a writer. 

But the one lesson I know is true for reaching excellence in any activity is practice. 

I had the privilege of having the great painter FN Souza in my home during his last Christmas, and he said, “Kiran, I can no longer draw badly, because drawing is part of my metabolism”. 

My dad filled sketch book after sketch book till he achieved his excellence.

Any writer must also be re-writer. 

Rewrite till the words have the exact sharpness and economy of meaning you want. 

What would you like to say to your readers?

My love and gratitude to you for joining me in this pilgrimage.

Thanks a lot Kiran for your valuable time. Wishing you all the best for your current and future endeavours.


  1. This was such neat to read , it almost brought me to tears ... for many reasons ... would like to read his books ... thanks for featuring him, Mr. G :) Love, cat.

  2. Interesting, Virtues of Four Rak'aah Sunnah of Zuhr & Asr