Kuzhali Manickavel

Interviewed by Sharon Lintz

Tell us about the genesis of your story.

I had been toying with three ideas at the time–the road, Prasanna’s character and the idea of a vanishing twin. I was working on them as separate pieces at first but after a number of drafts they started coming together.

Was it difficult to lean so heavily on a library setting to develop your characters and propel the story forward? What inspired you to make Prasanna a librarian?

A library seemed like a natural setting to me–I’ve seen a number of these places where the book cupboards would be locked up because someone had lost the key but it didn’t matter because no one read the books anyway. The backrooms were filled with boxes nobody ever opened. And there would always be someone there who opened the place up in the morning, sat there all day, closed it in the evening. I found the entire set-up fascinating and felt it would be a strong setting for a story.

There’s a lot of odd humor in this story that works wonderfully: the argument about the mango, the breast-squeezing, the peeking from behind the book, and of course, the very blackly funny “vanishing twin.” How do you approach using humor in your writing?

I like to use the same humor that I see in everyday life. I find a lot of humor and absurdity in everyday situations, just watching people do simple things like buying vegetables or hearing how they perceive and describe things. I try to recreate that when I write.

The twin really becomes the linchpin of the story, leading us back to Prasanna’s suspicion about the road. Tell us a little more about “him”—how did you decide to use such an unusual element in a story?

I had actually read about vanishing twins some time ago and I wanted to incorporate that idea somehow but it seemed almost too big to be just an element in a story. The idea of a twin that vanished before it was born, the effects of discovering something like that were huge and I wasn’t sure it would fit the piece initially. But then I started looking at the twin in terms of possibilities–dead possibilities, unexplored ones and from there it started to come together.

The poem in the beginning–what inspired it?

I tried to throw together as many Indian clichés as possible and make a poem out of them. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be.

What are you working on now?

I’m trying to put together a collection of short stories. So far, most of them deal with themes similar to this piece: places, people and situations that seem a little to the left of everything.

You live in a “a small temple town on the coast of Southern India.” Tell us a little about what a temple town is. What’s life like there?

There’s a large temple right in the middle of the town and everything is sort of built around it. There are four main roads but about eight million tiny streets which technically should only fit half a person but we somehow manage to run a number of buses down them. We have a lot of movie theaters because culturally we are a movie-loving people. The railway station is currently devoid of railway tracks as we are now boldly marching into the 21st century, discarding our dated meter gauge system for broad gauge. We wear sweaters during the monsoons because we think it’s cold.

Kuzhali Manickavel’s story “The Dynamics of Windows” appears in Subtropics 4.