Born in India, and brought up in various states, living in Singapore since 1990, Jayanthi Sankar has been creatively active for more than 25 years. She’s been on the panels of literary festivals including APWT 2018 at Gold coast. Her short story collection – Dangling Gandhi was the winner in the category of fiction: short story in the 2020 International Book Award by the American book fest. The literary Titan award was another it had won. Her recently published novel ‘Misplaced Heads’ has begun reaching its readers. A freelancer for more than 16years, she has three years of experience in journalism.
Akhila Saroha: I would like to begin by congratulating you on the publication of ‘Misplaced Heads’. How has the response to the book been so far?
Jayanthi Sankar: Thank you. I must say, the response has been brilliant so far and I am expecting more. It has just been a couple of months now. And it has reached the final list of Greece based ‘Eyelands book award’, in the novel category, along with 3 from the USA and one from the UK. The result will be out on 30th December.
Akhila Saroha: What led to the idea of writing about multiple issues in the framework of ‘Misplaced Heads’? Were there any events that inspired the work?
Jayanthi Sankar: My friend Mridula, a classical dancer and whose great-grandmother, a hereditary temple woman from a rural village in India migrated to Malaya during the early 1900s sowed the idea for my backdrop.
Akhila Saroha: You have a short story collection named ‘Dangling Gandhi’. Please share how writing ‘Misplaced Heads’ was a different experience.
Jayanthi Sankar: Short stories are composted based on various themes, characters, geographical settings, and therefore each can be created separately, at different times but in a novel the wider canvas can be a boon and also bane and intimidating. It’s an out of the world experience to create your own fictional world.
Akhila Saroha: What are your views about present-day writing? Do you think it does complete justice to the different classes and social groups of society?
Jayanthi Sankar: I observe, more books emerging for all kinds of readers, and thanks to covid the reading habit has increased globally. However, my concern has always been that in the ocean of titles, unfortunately, some of the gems get unnoticed. Serious readers do know to watch out for the rare titles but nonetheless such books inevitably take a long to get genuinely noticed.
Akhila Saroha: Are there any authors that you enjoy reading or any books which are your favorites?
Jayanthi Sankar: Kafka on the Shore by Murakami, Thousand Splendid Suns by Kaled Hosseini, The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh, Vegetarian by Han Kang, Marrow by Yan Lianke, Seeing by Jose Saramago are some of my all-time favourites. I reread them whenever I crave, between my two major works. Pico Iyer’s Travelogues and Trevor Noah’s works have fascinated me recently.
Akhila Saroha: Is the short story a more comfortable genre for you or full-fledged fiction writing if your experience of writing ‘Dangling Gandhi’ and ‘Misplaced Heads’ is considered?
Jayanthi Sankar: Writing short stories gives me the luxury of taking time off and return with a theme, and again relax. The frequency of this cycle would depend on the frequency of the themes that would push me to create. But in a wide canvas, especially if it is historical fiction, the process demands months of uncompromised focus from me.
Akhila Saroha: ‘Dangling Gandhi’ and ‘Misplaced Heads’ has given a powerful introduction to your potential as a writer. Can the readers expect more from you in the future? Please share about your future projects.
Jayanthi Sankar: ‘Misplaced Heads’ was to come later but it cut the queue. My dream novel, Singapore centric has been churning in me for a decade is yet to progress. I’m waiting for the magic to happen, hopefully soon.
Akhila Saroha: What is the story behind the title of your work, ‘Misplaced Heads’?
Jayanthi Sankar: As I often get when I am working on a wide canvas, I got the mythological story and the title as a flash one night as I was trying to fall asleep, The title, I thought would suit my novel and fixed my mind on that, forgetting the other few I had in my mind. I would have lost the flash in my Alpha state if I had not the paper and pencil near my pillow. I had scribbled the two words and went on to sleep.
Akhila Saroha: How easy or difficult was it for you to balance the narrative keeping in mind the minute details while swinging it between different time zones?
Jayanthi Sankar: It was difficult, to imagine a wide canvas and bring a balance between the ancient and contemporary strands and that challenge itself brought in me joy after I rewrote and edited several times to bring about the needed sharpness and more balance. And I ended up using only a micro fraction of the large amount of the material I gathered in the 2.5 years of research.
Akhila Saroha Which story for you is the most relatable at a personal level in ‘Marigold- the Golden Memories’?
Jayanthi Sankar: I’m sorry, I am yet to read that Anthology. Is in my ‘to read’ long list.
Akhila Saroha: If you were to describe your book, ‘Misplaced Heads’ in a few words without giving any spoilers, what would those words be?
Jayanthi Sankar: A postmodernist, one-of-its-kind experimental fiction with a whole new style of storytelling that would demand readers’ participation and focus.
Akhila Saroha: What advice would you give to budding writers who may be planning to write in the same genre as ‘Misplaced Heads’?
Jayanthi Sankar: The process of researching and creating was enjoyable for me and I think that’s how creative should be, with calm internalizing. The vastness and richness of this kind of topic might terrify us, especially if we plan a fiction based on it. To overcome that and at the same time keeping fresh and alive the creative space within can be damn challenging. If the research cannot bring in us the involvement and enjoyment, a fiction unfolding might become near impossible, and that’s the crux, I feel.
Akhila Saroha: Thank you very much for sparing your time. I look forward to reading more books from you in the future. All the best.
Jayanthi Sankar: Thank you. I hope to continue to write as long as my journey takes me forward. Except the WIP novel there are no rigid plans, as of now.
Title: Misplaced Heads’