Manav Kaul reflects on how travelling and reading other wordsmiths have impacted his writing over the years

In December last year, Manav Kaul published his first novel Antima. The playwright and actor has an Instagram account where he regularly posts about the books he is currently reading and what he thinks of them. Given that he is a published author of six books and such a voracious reader, it seems natural to ask Kaul about his reading habits when he was a young boy growing up in Hoshangabad in Madhya Pradesh.

The question elicits a roar of laughter from the 44-year-old. “I used to hate reading!” he says, recalling that the interest in reading sparked off when he started doing theatre in Bhopal under the tutelage of Alok Chatterjee. “He was a very well-read man who would take names like Chekhov, Brecht, Stanislavsky in his references and I would wonder who these people are. I was attracted to these strange names. When he told me that they are great writers, I started reading a lot of Russian literature because one, it was cheap and readily available and two, because even I wanted to take these names casually during conversations,” he cheekily admits.

Kaul found himself reading more and more, including works by writers such as Nirmal Verma and Vinod Kumar Shukla. “I discovered good writing and realised what a beautiful world it is. So, it might have started with pretence but then I was fascinated and have remained fascinated since,” he adds.

On writing and more

Although his spectrum of reading was quite limited in the initial years, Kaul shares that in the past six or seven years, he has started exploring writers outside of his comfort zone. “I started exploring Scandinavian writers. I started researching about writers and the kind of books they have written and are writing now,” he says.

For the past two years, he has also been delving into writings by female authors. His own writing, he believes, has been enriched by the different perspectives he has gained from these books. “Secondly, when you travel you stop taking yourself seriously because nobody knows you. For instance, if I go to a small village in France, nobody knows or cares about who I am. You understand that you don’t matter. Then when you write, everything becomes so light and you start seeing life very differently,” he says.

It is not just Kaul’s books but even his posts on his Instagram handle that seem to have found a connection with the readers. Reflecting on the sometimes long, winding posts, Kaul says that when he was younger, he used to write poems. “Somewhere I realised that poetry is actually an escape — the structure, the construct of it — you can hide behind a poem very easily,” he says. On the other hand, he finds his posts on his social media quite liberating. “Now, when I travel and write, I write without any filter, not caring even if there are mistakes or if the sentence construction is incorrect. It has to be what is going through my mind right there and then. I think my spontaneity connects with my readers, because deep down we are all the same. The honesty always works,” he adds.

The name is Bond

Kaul, naturally, missed travelling during the lockdown, so the first chance he got, he took off to Landour in December last year. His Instagram video with one of India’s most beloved authors Ruskin Bond was a delight to watch, with the latter congratulating him on his latest book Antima and hoping that it brings him lots of readers as well as royalty!

“It’s really funny how I met him,” recalls Kaul, who has even quoted the celebrated author in his books. “I messaged him on his Instagram expressing a desire to meet him, and three days later, I got a response from him asking me to come over,” he shares. Over a cup of tea, they chatted, laughed and had a good time. “He is just amazing! Since we are living in Covid times, I told him I wish I could hug you and he said, ‘Come, come. You can hug me; I am not afraid’ and I did. That was the best part of the meeting!” he laughs, clearly a memory he will cherish forever.

Poetry time

Although writing a novel was always on his agenda, Kaul didn’t know it would happen now. “I thought I will write one when I’m old, because I won’t have the patience to write it now. Then I thought, ‘how long should I wait’?” he smiles. The lockdown helped. “I thought I won’t get this time again. It was three or four months of intense writing. I just cooked, ate, slept and wrote. Such a writer’s life, wah!” he guffaws.

His next, he shares is a poetry collection, again a first for him. The book titled Karta Ne Karm Se is ready for release but Kaul wants to wait a bit before putting them out. “I am really excited about it. These are poems I have written over the years. It was meant to be published as my second or third book but somehow, it kept getting delayed because other things took precedence,” he says.

Manav Kaul suggests lockdown reading list:

Things I Don’t Want to Know – Deborah Levy

So Much Longing in So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch – Karl Ove Knausgaard

Akhiri Dawat aur Anya Kahanyan – Khalid Jawed

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig

Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo

A Promised Land – Barack Obama

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

A Very Easy Death – Simone de Beauvoir

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