Did you always plan on becoming a writer?
I wanted to become a flautist. I learnt Hindustani classical music under the tutelage of Pandit BL Kaul and Pandit Anil Raina, two wonderful gurus of Kashmir. Unlike music, writing is an individualistic vocation.
How has growing up in Kashmir helped in shaping your imagination?
I was born in Khankah-i-Sokhta, Safa Kadal in downtown Srinagar, Kashmir, and spent my wonder years there. My family was forced to leave Kashmir in 1990 because of the militancy. I see Kashmir as a faded image now. I don’t go to Kashmir very frequently but I see Kashmir in my dreams. These dreams are a bit fragmented and the place and the people come alive in the most magical and mysterious of ways in my writings. Had it not been for my grandmother’s yarns and stories, I would not have written a word.
Tell us about your progression from poetry to the novel format?
I began writing poetry when I was in school. I continued writing poetry till I graduated. But soon, I realised that to write stories, it was necessary to switch to prose. However, I have tried writing poetic prose in The Garden of Solitude and A Fistful of Earth And Other Stories.
How did the The Umbrella Man come about?
The Umbrella Man is set in a mental asylum. I wrote the story last summer in the most bizarre of circumstances. I used to go to my balcony at midnight to watch the planes land at an airstrip nearby. During the day I used to see an army of ants carry tiny food grains into their holes. In the evenings, I would narrate these scenes to my wife, Aishwarya, and daughter, Amia. Delhi was burning that summer. And rain was nowhere in sight. I dreamt of a solitary man who chances upon an umbrella. I wrote about this man and his conversation with his only friend.
What are you working on presently?
I am working on a non-fiction anthology – a collection of personal memoirs of Kashmiri Pandits. I’m also working on a script for a full-length feature film. It’s set in Kashmir.