Reclusive writer Cyrus Mistry, whose book Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer has been nominated for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, prefers the classics to the contemporary — books as well as movies. In an interview with Amrita Madhukalya, he talks about moving to Kodaikanal from Mumbai and the two titles he is working on.
In both your novels, Radiance of Ashes and Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, defiance towards overbearing parents leads to extraordinary choices. Does that draw anything from your childhood?
When it comes to writing, one always draws material from one’s personal life. But, then you cannot draw parallels. I have always been close to my parents; and my father is no more. If you investigate my childhood, you will find streaks of rebellion. It is a pattern, yet an essential part of growing up. I like to work on the fictional aspect of events.
You moved to Kodaikanal from Mumbai. Does the seclusion help your writing?
It definitely helps to write when you move to a quiet place. I moved partly because my son was studying there for five years, and partly for health issues. Moving to Kodaikanal made my writing more focused.
Who do you enjoy reading the most? What are your literary influences?
If you expect me to name my contemporaries, I’d sidestep and tell you that I prefer the classics. I go to the Russians for emotional impact. When I read Fyodor Dostoyevsky, it moves me emotionally. I also cherish writers from the first half of the 1920s: Elizabeth Bowen and Angus Wilson have been favourites. I like to read writers who are no longer in fashion.
You’ve written screenplays. Do you enjoy Indian films?
I can’t say that I watch a lot of films, because I don’t find enough time to do so. I enjoy the films of Guru Dutt and Satyajit Ray. I don’t find recent movies worth my time, even those of Western cinema. There is too much interaction.
The Parsi community features in most of your and your brother Rohinton’s works. Is that a comfortable space?
Characteristically, in Rohinton’s (Mistry) writing there is a fair bit of nostalgia because he draws from his memory, being away from India for more than 40 years now.
I’m more intent on fictionalising, not dwelling much on autobiographical happenings. We are different like that.
Writers will write about what they know. But I lay more emphasis on fictionalising. In my writing, many characters are not Parsis. They walk from outside to take the story forward. In Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, I draw from a research I conducted for the BBC 20 years ago. We know the Parsis intimately, and I think that reflects in our writings.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on two titles — one, a book of short stories, and another is a collection of my plays. I cannot invest on a novel now, because I work in an advertising company to make ends meet. But the DSC nomination is a positive development; it may help me give up my job to focus on writing. I do not have much faith in publishers. In India, the problem is that there are not too many literary prizes for writers to depend on.