Winning Words

Fresh from another award, writer Dilip D’Souza talks to Aradhna Wal

Words’ worth Dilip D’Souza
Words’ worth Dilip D’Souza
Photo: Shailendra Pandey

DILIP D’SOUZA does not call himself a journalist. He finds that an insult to other people in the field who have worked hard to get where they are. Nor does he label himself a leftist, rightist, centralist. “I’m just a writer. And a man with opinions,” he says.
The 52-year-old Mumbai-based writer recently won the ‘Newsweek and The Daily Beast-Open Hands Prize for Commentary in South Asia’. His award entails a month-long residency at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony in New York. Nominated by his editor from HarperCollins India, he won the award for three pieces — ‘Mr Tendulkar’s Neighbourhood’ and ‘Get to the Top’ forThe Caravan, and ‘A Few Good Doctors’ on rural healthcare in Chhattisgarh, for Fountain Ink magazine.
A graduate of BITS Pilani, D’Souza refers to his days as a software engineer in the States as his “previous life”. Twenty years ago he discovered his passion for writing and came back to India. Since then he has been on the hunt for stories in different parts of the country, from living next door to Sachin, to Muslim neighbourhoods in Mumbai, to denotified tribes. He is, however, keeping his next project under wraps.
He attributes living and travelling abroad to opening his eyes to India. “Growing up you get conditioned to poverty and to filth. After I came back, the first thing I asked myself was, why don’t we keep our streets clean. You get rid of preconceived notions. People in the States grow up with the same family values, if you want to call them that, as we do. And, despite what many undergraduate fresh-off-the-boat students expect, women are not simply going to fall in bed with you.” His book Roadrunner: An Indian Quest in America was his attempt to look at the country without prejudice. “I held up a mirror to America, which reflected both me and my country. Writing is a way of educating myself.”
Label shy, D’Souza laughingly recounts the Wikipedia war over his political loyalties. Different users changed his description from Communist to left liberal and, post-award, to “far-left, Western left liberal” and “follower of Che Guevara”. “Call me what makes you happy,” he says, “I am just trying to keep an open mind.”
Aradhna Wal is a Sub-Editor with Teheslka.