The Curious Reader

Twenty Questions to Ashokamitran

    A postal interview with a writer?!!!

How’s that idea? Ya, I was struck by such an idea when i wanted to have more of the writer Ashokamitran who brought the life and people of Gemini Studios before us with such vivid narrative in his book, MY YEARS WITH THE BOSS. I started collecting questions from students, friends and colleagues. I was able to collect Twenty questions for the writer. I knew that flying to Chennai and interviewing the writer has lots of practical and logistic(!!)constraints. So, i wrote a letter to the writer attaching these questions seeking his response. I gave a title to the interview, “THE CURIOUS READER:Twenty questions to Ashokamitran”.  

Asokamitran’s response came on 12.12.2010. My jaw dropped when i found the envelope waiting, a shaky hand has penned in hurry his unfaltering thoughts on dull sheets of paper . 

Sir, thank you for taking pains to respond.

Here are the answers from him to the questions asked. He wrote:

Chennai, 04.12.2010

Dear friend,

Here are the answers to all your questions. Writing is best when it is for your own desire to create a cogent, intelligible piece. If it gets to be shared by a few others, well and good. But you can’t set a goal to yourself in writng. To be able to enjoy a well-written, engaging book or story is a piece of good fortune.

Yours sincerely,


I am not well at all.


1)      How did your upbringing/family ties catalyze your writing skills?

Family ties may make one reflect more intensely. But they have no direct link with the skill a child develops. Writing is not a lucrative profession or calling.

2)      At what point of time in the course of your writing did you experience total satisfaction?

Total satisfaction is an abstraction. With my own writing that eludes me. But one is happy that he records certain things to show with an impersonal readership.

3)      A story is normally woven around the yarns of a real life experience. How about your works?

All my stories are woven around either personal or well-known experiences.

4)      What factors in your work made you feel that they constitute the ingredients of a good story?

Credibility and interestingness. Credibility within the confines of your creative piece.


1)      Have you faced identity crisis or writer’s block?

There are moments of depression. But that shouldn’t be called crisis. We are human beings and are vulnerable to many personal or external forces.

2)      What makes you write?

There is a certain joy and sense of freedom when you write.


1)      You worked in a film studio for such long years and probably got an opportunity to know about the nuances of film making. How is that you never wanted to be an actor or director or script writer? Or is it that you were never fascinated by these things?

I like watching performances but I have enjoyed the written work from which the performances arise. This can vary from person to person.

2)      The filmdom is a make believe world, an unreal world full of artificialities and illusion. But at the same time film making is a serious affair and the final product the film touches the human heart. What are your feelings when you were in the studio and now? Did the work in the studio make you a philosopher?

There are serious people and frivolous people in every walk of life. Film stars need to be glamorous. Big strain. We have instances of cobblers, potters leaving great philosophers and saints.

3)      What would you like to be if you were to start all over again?


1)      Do you think that literature must lead (the reader/the writer) to spirituality?

Literature is not a must to spirituality. Great masters have always looked at literary men with reservation.

2)      What do you have to say about god, religion and spirituality?

A holy man is any day a more dependable human being than one who says he is not. Here again, nothing is a must.

3)      Do you think that writing is a way of unburdening oneself?

Writing is not a method of unburdening. That is escapism.

4)      What is the most painful thing about writing?

The physical act of writing. It takes one at least 100 more times than a thought in your head. So you are bound to lose quite a lot.

5)      Are there any stages to writing as far as you are concerned? If so, which is the most exciting stage?

With practice, you write more efficiently. But that may not be better writing. The love writing does in your head without you being aware of it.

6)      What do you have to say about the Indian writers in English like RK Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and Rabindranath Tagore or Indian writing in English?

Good writers. They wrote at a time when reading attitudes were not favourable to colonial creative work.

7) What are your political affiliations (only if you feel like answering)?

 50 years ago I would have joined Congress. Today I find the party making too many compromises, tampers very much with the citizens’ life.


 Why did you choose to write less in English and more in Tamil?

Tamil comes more natural because I live in a Tamil milieu. That much has to be done in Tamil writing. English has had (in prose) a 400 years’ stand and also the vigour of the American writers.

7)      What is the future of literature in the age of technology?

People will continue to write and read. The form may change.

8)      Which actor in Tamil film industry do you like the most? Why?

For the Tamil films, a savage like man is a hero, at least during the last 20 years.

9)      Any recent Tamil film that inspired you the most.

A mass entertainer, is ‘Badsha’ and ‘Tenali’ that weren’t bad at all.

10)  Any message for the budding writers.  

A matter of choice or priorities, writing as a profession is not lucrative. Can’t even support the writer, let alone his family.