An Interview with Rajesh Talwar, author of the “Trading Flesh in Tokyo: Nine Short Stories and a Play”

  • TLT: Firstly, congratulations on the publication of your book, “Trading Flesh in Tokyo: Nine Short Stories and a Play.” How has the reception been so far?

Rajesh Talwar: Thank you! The reception has been heartwarming and encouraging. I am truly happy as how personalized many of the reviews have been. It is always great when an author sees that a reader appreciates certain nuances in his writing, and takes as much care with his review writing just as I have with my stories. This has happened more with this book than with some of my previous writing so that has pleased me greatly.

  • TLT: What inspired you to write “Trading Flesh in Tokyo: Nine Short Stories and a Play”? Were there any specific events that influenced the creation of this work?

Rajesh Talwar: Many of these stories are partially based on my personal experience. Although it varies from story to story in most of them about twenty percent is based on experience, the rest is imagination. You need to disguise the characters and modify the situations so that you don’t offend anyone. Of course, the play at the end of the book was influenced by the coronavirus which affected us all. In the end, I believe it all worked well, but while writing it out, I wasn’t at all sure if I could pull off converting the virus into a character, a feminine one at that!

  • TLT: When it comes to placing events within “Trading Flesh in Tokyo: Nine Short Stories and a Play” and ensuring its accessibility to readers, how challenging was that decision for you?

Rajesh Talwar: With some notable exceptions, I personally hate it when an author writes so abstrusely that his writing become inaccessible, sometimes even incomprehensible to readers. You want to make your work accessible but at the same time retain subtleties which enhance the reading experience for some but at the same time every reader might not get.

  • TLT: What are your thoughts on contemporary writing? In the context of “Trading Flesh in Tokyo: Nine Short Stories and a Play,” do you believe it accurately captures human nature?

Rajesh Talwar: I think there is a lot of talent there, but I believe that unfortunately publishers are not so courageous. This is not only true of Indian publishers but publishers the world over. See how Geetanjali Shree, the International Booker Prize winner was published only by a British charity, a very low-key publisher. This must surely because the big commercial publishers had turned down her manuscript. Now of course after she won the prize, they will all be regretting their decision and lining up behind her. Yes, these are challenging times for publishers, but they must not stop taking risks. Regarding your second question, I do believe that my stories do accurately reflect human nature, especially its unpredictable side.

  • TLT: “Trading Flesh in Tokyo: Nine Short Stories and a Play” showcases your unique writing style. Are there any authors you enjoy reading or books that hold a special place in your heart?

Rajesh Talwar: A special place in my heart? I’m very fond of the Russian writers like Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy. I also love some of the French writers such as Maupassant and Proust. Among the English I love Oscar Wilde’s plays and other writings.

  • TLT: How would you classify the audience appeal of “Trading Flesh in Tokyo: Nine Short Stories and a Play”? Does it have a broad reach?

Rajesh Talwar: I think it will appeal to three segments in terms of reach. Firstly of course it will appeal to short story fans. Secondly it will appeal to those who enjoy reading travelogues since many of the stories have authentic overseas locations and the cast too is multinational. It’s the kind of book I myself would pick up at an airport or a train station.

  • TLT: “Trading Flesh in Tokyo: Nine Short Stories and a Play” has introduced your potential as a writer quite powerfully. Can readers expect more from you in the future? Could you share any insights about your upcoming projects?

Rajesh Talwar: Thank you for your kind words. As a writer I like to stretch myself. Although I have written some thirty-seven books, across different genres, this is my first collection of short stories. In the same way, although I have travelled widely, especially in Asia, I haven’t yet written a travelogue. So one of the projects that I am in the process of wrapping up is a travel book with the working title: ‘Where Elephants Danced and Dragons Flew.’ I am also working on a book on a book on education but written keeping a lay audience in mind. Working title is ‘Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge: The past, present and future of excellence in education.’

  • TLT: What inspired the choice of the title “Trading Flesh in Tokyo: Nine Short Stories and a Play” for your work?

Rajesh Talwar: I always spend a fair amount of time mulling over a title. Sometimes it takes a really long time before a title comes to my mind. A title is really important. I have a friend who spend six years writing a book but chose a terrible title for it. That affected the success of the book which deserved more attention. A title must capture the essence of a tale but at the same time it should be intriguing. Now ‘Trading Flesh in Tokyo’ to my mind is much catchier and more intriguing than the simpler, more prosaic ‘Flesh Trade in Tokyo’. One of my reviewers said he picked up the book because while he knew that there was flesh trade in Bangkok he didn’t know much about Tokyo. He was wondering if flesh trade existed in Tokyo and whether the story was about that subject. As you know, the story is something else entirely.

  • TLT: Among various writing styles, what led you to adopt prose as the form for “Trading Flesh in Tokyo: Nine Short Stories and a Play”?

Rajesh Talwar: Although these are short stories, I wished to create memorable characters. In order to do so, I had to introduce a fair amount of interior monologue to reveal the character’s inner most thoughts. This was best achieved through the medium of a short story. With the exception of the single play in the book, I didn’t feel that it would be appropriate for me to use the format of a play or another form.

  1.  TLT: In today’s time, the ideas presented in “Trading Flesh in Tokyo: Nine Short Stories and a Play” may not be widely discussed. In your opinion, what could be the possible reasons for that?

Rajesh Talwar: Our search for instant gratification, I suppose. People want even wisdom and insights to be delivered to them on a platter. The younger lot especially are an Instagram generation. I’m told by video creators that the shorter the video the better; people simply don’t have time for longer videos. This collection of short stories will require a fair degree of engagement and subsequent reflection. Not to say that there aren’t thrilling aspects to some of the stories in the collection, especially ‘The Stars are my Witness’ and ‘Sex and the Seety.’

  1. TLT: If you had to describe “Trading Flesh in Tokyo: Nine Short Stories and a Play” in a few words without revealing any spoilers, how would you characterize it?

Rajesh Talwar: Let me see. I suppose if I had to put it in a single sentence I could say: Stories revealing different, unexpected sides to human nature, together with the universality of human experience

  1. TLT: What advice would you give to aspiring writers who are interested in exploring the same genre as “Trading Flesh in Tokyo: Nine Short Stories and a Play”?

Rajesh Talwar: Keep it in mind that short stories are a challenging format. Not sure if it was Mark Twain who said that I am writing a long letter to you because I do not have the time to write a short one. Sometimes it can be more challenging to pen something short than to write something lengthier. Speaking for myself I can say that although I have written something like eleven full length plays, it was in a way more challenging to write the short play towards the end of the book: ‘How Madame Corona Was Introduced to the World.’ In terms of advice I would say to an aspiring writer that he should begin by writing what he knows about. Later on, he can become more imaginative.

  1. TLT: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. I eagerly anticipate reading more of your books in the future. Best wishes.

Rajesh Talwar: Many thanks for this interesting conversation.

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