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Swimmer Among the Stars

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Author, Kanishk Tharoor:

As Kanishk Tharoor wins the 2016 Tata Lit Live! First Book Award for his debut, Swimmer Among the Stars, we revisit our interview with him earlier in the year. From journeying along Alexander’s adventures with the Chinese to riding rockets and elephants and feeling the loneliness of a college student in a foreign country, the 12 stories are spread across space-time. Each differs from the other yet the intrigue and fantasy that surround these and the tone in which he tells the tales connect them seamlessly.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? When did your romance with the written word begin?
I grew up mostly in New York City in a home steeped in books [in addition to his political career, my father is a writer, and my mother is a professor of literature]. Writing seemed like a fairly natural and obvious thing to do with my time even when I was small. Both my twin brother Ishaan and I were constantly composing stories at a very young age [six or seven], and that’s carried through into our careers, which are focused around writing. Ishaan is a journalist at The Washington Post where he writes brilliantly about international affairs. I have a less pedigreed background in journalism, but more recently I’ve devoted myself to fiction. Swimmer Among the Stars is my first book.

What authors and books influenced you, growing up?
Too many to list here probably! We grew up on some conventional English children’s literature like Enid Blyton and Biggles [my father’s favourite] and The Lord of the Rings [my uncle read that to Ishaan and me when we were toddlers], but I’m grateful for some of the more adventurous literatures foisted on us at a young age. My mother would read to us from the Shahnamah—the Persian book of kings—and from Russian folklore and Greek mythology and the Mahabharata. That gave us a wonderfully open outlook, and really prepared us for our own voyages into literature.

You have been writing since a long time and have been published around the world—when did you decide that it was time for your debut book? What inspired the collection of short stories?
I don’t know if there’s a single inspiration for the collection. The stories all had rather separate births, emerging from different ideas and experiments. I’m happy they found a home together under the roof of the collection. These stories accumulated over time. The oldest I wrote when I was 18 or 19 [over a decade ago] and the most recent was written last spring. They naturally touch on different subjects because my particular interests have shifted a little bit over time. But I think they’re united by their tone and the style of their telling.

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