an interview with author Karan Mahajan •

an interview with author Karan Mahajan •

A few years ago I had time to kill in Huddersfield and decided to look for some interesting books in the Oxfam store. I had never seen a copy of Granta before or tracked one down, assuming my intelligence was inferior to its target readership and my pretension was elsewhere. (Spoiler: Despite ongoing questions about my intelligence, it isn’t.) But there you go, an issue dedicated to America’s best young writers.

It included a short story by Karan Mahajan entitled The Anthology. I had already read his second novel, The Association of Small Bombs, and the feelings of unease and uncertainty he gave me were reason enough to make me a fan. The Anthology elicited an equally disturbing reaction in me, as it is another dark story, the one about the aftermath of a bombing and it begins in Delhi in 2000 during a literary event. It’s a world away from video games, but Mahajan’s focus on politics and world-building seemed relevant to the spaces where games are often found these days. Mahajan’s work reminds me of Donna Tartt’s theory of “density and speed” as being at the heart of her work, which she pointed out on the release of The Goldfinch. “You write a large article, but you want it to go fast. You want the reader’s experience to be fast. And you want there to be details.”

The Anthology is beautifully written, superimposed on humorous satirical critiques not only of the literary world, but of Indian society as well. The unreliable narrator – who we only know as the son of a Rajesh Soni and nicknamed “Fatso” – relays the story of this fatal event, where literary elites gathered to hear from an esteemed Kiwi writer. Unfortunately, with all the others killed, another writer named Ismail Baig appears as the only survivor. Soni, after agreeing with his friends to create an anthology of short stories inspired by this event, bumps into Baig to ask for his blessing and give him a foreword. It’s wonderful to see how Mahajan almost pulls the curtain back to reveal why he is focusing on such a dark subject, only to act as a decoy, as the narrator explains: “Bombs always make the most of the least material … Bombs see the possibility in everything, and in this way they are like artists, brilliant improvisers, except they kill, and so isn’t there some strange poetry, ask you, in a bomb that kills artists?

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Mahajan spent the early parts of his life in India before returning to the United States to study English and Economics at Stanford, and is currently based in Rhode Island. Her first novel Family Planning follows Arjun, a young teenager of twelve siblings who has to deal with his politician father and a crush on a girl at school. Mahajan is unlike any of the characters found in his chaotic, bustling worlds. He was calm, collected and charming during our Skype video call.

I bring up the “Congratulations You Played Yourself” meme courtesy of DJ Khaled, wondering if Mahajan’s confrontational American and Indian upbringing means he finds himself playing different characters in different environments. “I think I am only unified as an individual and a character when I write,” he says. “This is the one time where all of these contradictory elements seem to come together. Otherwise, yes, I am sometimes embarrassed in America, sometimes in India, as a person who comes from the place but is now slowly aware of the growth. distance between it and the place. ”

To hear Mahajan talk about his books – which are far more politically charged than many video games – is to hear someone who looks a bit like a game designer at the start of a new project: “I think it’s what’s great about writing and why I do it, “he tells me.” Is that I feel complete freedom. The only lack of freedom is whether you’re going to hurt people you know.

The fascinating thing about the two Mahajan novels is how they visualize the realistic, dense and hectic nature of Indian town planning so well, despite focusing on a few main central characters and moving from one to the other. ‘other. I want to know how he creates these worlds, basing them in an India recognizable to many, but also very specific and detailed.

“I think it must be that thing that people say,” he told me, “these are the experiences you go through before you decide to become a writer, have some sort of insignificant but also alive presence in your mind. And the way you view these experiences remains changing from year to year. As if you could go back to the primitive scenes of your childhood and see them through the prism of a 20 year old, 30 year old, etc. And they keep revealing vast storehouses of meaning and things you didn’t have back then. “


I wonder if the true artistic freedom offered in novels is something that we lack in video games. I’d say only a handful of truly book-like games exist, such as What Remains of Edith Finch and the Life is Strange series, but when we do talk about it, Mahajan is respectfully optimistic about the differences between those worlds. “I have a few writer friends who love video games,” he says. “I think it’s like television, the place where the really major writing of our time takes place. These fulfill the roles that novels filled fifty years ago.”

I asked the inevitable: how the pandemic affected her own writing, especially her inability to visit the cinema, what he said before is a useful source of creative inspiration. “I don’t step into the same kind of dream space as when I’m in a movie theater, sitting in my own house. I’m a lot more distracted, looking at my phone. We don’t think about but we had so little. places of sensory deprivation, and the cinema was one of them. So even if the movie was bad, you can kind of let your mind go. “

Something that has occurred to me over the past year is how everything that has happened will affect different works of art in unexpected ways, especially since some people have used the time to explore new hobbies and interests. He left me one last anecdote, about Jackbox Party games during the pandemic. “It’s funny because there’s kind of early media quality to them. They’re so lo-fi even if they use your phone. So I wonder if that, for people like me who aren’t big players a sort of artefact from that period. “For many people who stayed in one place for almost a year and did things (like this) that they might not have not do otherwise, it will be fascinating to see the type of art resulting from this pandemic. With the hope and condition that death will remain preventable during the present horror, I look forward to it.

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