In contemporary times, writing is a political activity: Benyamin
For him, it is important that the tales he decides to tell not only relate but also 'belong' to him in multiple ways. And while some stories have a range wide enough for many paths to develop, taking the shape of a novel, others might lose their charm if stretched. "So, they should be short stories. Of course, it's the writer's creative intuition and experience that guides him to decide the destiny of a tale. But choosing a story itself is a painful process, I just cannot write it unless it calls me," says Malayalam author Benyamin, winner of multiple awards in 2018, including the inaugural JCB Prize for Literature for 'Jasmine Days' and The Crossword Book Award for Indian Language Translation for the same work.
With his latest 'Body and Blood' revolving around the illegal organ trade and "power and corruption of organised religion", which will be released by HarperCollins Publishers, the author, whose 'Goat Days' was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012 says, "I got the idea about organ trafficking from a news item which showed several people including a doctor who was eventually arrested. That is what led to my research on how this mafia operated. Also, I have always criticised Prosperity theology as it is against the true teachings of Christ. It is a product of Capitalism and the market. And I found how these two mafia are connected to each other. The book portrays the ground reality through a fictional story."
The author's next collection of short stories and an anthology of modern Malayalam stories will also be released by the same publisher. "Though this is the first time I am associating with HarperCollins, I have felt comfortable with them from the beginning. Associating with a worldwide publisher will help me reach more readers."
Despite the recognition that has come his way through major awards, the author maintains that as a writer no award or fame can have any effect his on writing considering he has never written for any of that. "I am here to write on whatever touches me most and my own pleasure. So, when I am on the desk, everything else stays away and I concentrate only on the story, the frame work, detailing and its identity."
In times when words like migration and refuge have become a part of popular narrative, Benyamin stresses that calling everybody "pravasi" is not the right thing to do. "It may be called migration when the reason for movement is want of a better life. Refugees are forced to move owing to war, riots or calamities. Exile is more difficult condition - mostly due to political reasons. How can we put everyone in a one 'column'?"
Insisting that no power or religion has been in favour of free speech and have always suppressed it by jailing and killing writers, intellectuals and scientists, the author, whose book 'Goat Days' (English translation) has been banned by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and 'Al Amin Novel Factory', which has the backdrop of Arab Spring (banned) by the UAE, says, "Hyper- nationalism has become a disease of our era. However, it is important that the young learn lessons from history and understand how previous generations have protected their words from such powers. They were so courageous to tell the truth."
Insisting that in contemporary times, writing is a political activity as there are enough mediums - blind to reality and living in a utopia - available for entertainment, this recipient of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award adds,"Now, who will address the reality and raise questions, other than writers? It is our duty to raise political question in our fiction. That is the best medium to question the power. But for that to happen, it is pertinent not to lose touch with the reality and keep our eyes wide open to everything around. And yes, be courageous to write about it."
As the past decade has witnessed major publishers getting authors writing in Indian languages translated, and the works earning a sizable readership and major awards, Benyamin, an engineer, whose fascination with words started when he was in Bahrain from 1992 to 2013, says, "Till the last decade, Indian language writings were considered as a second-grade product. Some Indian English writers made some comments to that effect too. However, in the past 10 years or so, there has been a considerable change with readers fed-up with fake urban stories. Somewhere, they were looking for realistic local portrayals. The publishers were therefore forced to find such stories and started translating Indian language writers. These books had to be received well for their certain freshness."
Smiling that most of his novels centred around migrated labour issues, their suffering, politics of Arab countries or very local stories, and he now feels like tackling a "pan Indian perspective", the author adds, "I want to talk about different cultures, struggles and diverse issues. It should be a big novel. Unfortunately, right now, it is only a dream. I hope I am able to write it sometime in the future."