EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
Where do the stories of Happy Birthday come from?
The stories in Happy Birthday are formed and developed keeping only moments in mind, those epiphanic moments when the character or plot or truth or all of the above reveal themselves, most often without even knowing it. And it all comes together or falls apart. Exactly like life. As a writer, I remain very curious. And I am not afraid of doing stuff, of failing and falling, and loving and laughing.
You begin your collection with a poem by Maya Angelou, which celebrates the sameness of human nature irrespective of their backgrounds. In what ways do you think the diverse characters in your book are alike?
I’m happy that you brought up the poem because I couldn’t believe that 40 words could so effectively summarise my entire book. We are all similar in that we’re all groping in the dark and waiting for someone to shine the light on our disarrayed emotions and experiences. What then distinguishes us is this little thing called courage.
One man’s hill is another man’s mountain. How they surmount it, what they see from the peak and what they become is what my characters embody.
Your stories seem to eschew happy endings, awarding your protagonists, at best, with little triumphs. Is that a policy you follow consciously?
I wouldn’t call them happy endings as much as having the final arc of the story thrown into sharp relief. The whole point of my stories is to capture duality, the beauty and horror that is our life. This duality also exists within each person, each situation and each conscious conviction we hold. I walk my characters through the ring of fire and then let them find the way around their own ending. They need, as we all do, these little triumphs — as you call them — to keep going. I like to call it hope.
There’s a lot of handwringing, if not open conflict, when it comes to relationships between parents and their children. Are the two generations fundamentally different when it comes to core values?
In my stories, I’ve used love as a framing device to capture the difference in core values between parents and their children. It is undoubtedly the purest form of love, yet it is often misplaced, throttling or damaging. The Gecko On The Wall captures an entitled daughter raised by a father who doesn’t know where to place his love. In The Gola Master, a man watches his son lured away by the things that he is unable to provide him. But I think that it takes a story like Lemon and Chilli to capture the crux of the inert psychosis that exists between parents and their children. It shows that the world is in a constant reproduction of itself. Every person, every generation wants to be greater than the sum part of their dreams and pockets. In that we unite, in that we divide, in that we love and we hate.