• Sunday, March 26, 2023

Interview With Krishna Candeth, author of "All Stray Dogs Go to Heaven"

Most of the characters in the book are vagabonds in an emotional sense, not wandering the streets of any particular city but the streets of their own imaginations.
on Feb 27, 2023
Interview With Krishna Candeth

Krishna Candeth was born in Kerala. He studied English Literature at Madras University and Film making at Columbia University, New York. He has made short films and documentaries, and his poetry has been published in England and the United States. All Stray Dogs Go to Heaven is his first novel. He now lives in Colombia.

Frontlist: Why did you choose the title “All Stray Dogs Go to Heaven” for your book?

Krishna: At the very outset, anything an author says about his or her novel should be treated with suspicion! This is mostly because a novel sets out to be one thing but becomes about many other things in the course of the writing. As for the title of the novel, most of the characters in the book are vagabonds in an emotional sense, not wandering the streets of any particular city but the streets of their own imaginations. They may have a roof over their heads, but they all conspicuously lack a roof over their feelings. Also, the sense of a house of one’s own in which one can stretch one’s legs without worrying about the moods of others or inhabit a space where one can daydream and give one’s feelings free rein is a recurring theme in the book.

Frontlist: Your first novel was published at the age of seventy. How did the idea of composing a book at such a unique time of your life come to your mind?

Krishna:  What’s age got to do with it?! A more direct answer would be that I am a filmmaker by training and spent many years writing screenplays and doing short films and documentaries. However, you need money to make films, and I must confess that my talent for raising money has always been suspect. During one of these lulls, when there was no money forthcoming for a documentary I was working on, I decided to ditch the project and write a novel instead.

Since I studied literature before becoming interested in making films, I have carried the seeds of this novel safely with me over the years. There are stories all of us want to tell – no matter how old or young- and it’s sometimes a question of biding one’s time until you find the right voice or structure to hold the narrative in place. I suppose themes or sections of the book may have occurred to me when I was much younger, but devising a narrative method that would link them all together- that came slowly and much later. As for writing a book at seventy, I might mention the French writer Henri-Pierre Roché, who wrote the famous Jules et Jim (on which Francois Truffaut’s film of the same name was based) when he was over seventy-four. So I guess I’m in good company! At any rate, I’d like to think that there are men and women in India and elsewhere in the world well beyond the age of seventy who think not only about writing books but of ways to make the world a better place to live in for those who come after them.

Frontlist: You have crafted a matriarchal society in the book. Is building a matriarchal society the answer to all the outrageous discrimination women face every day in the modern world, or should we prioritize making a world where all genders are accepted equally? 

Krishna: Matriarchal societies have always been a healthy antidote to the impunities of the patriarchal system. But whether patriarchal or matriarchal, both societies are grounded in the inequities of a pernicious caste system. The matriarchal Ammalkans in the novel, actively or unwittingly, subscribe to the many atrocious modes of behaviour prescribed for the lower castes by those at the top of the caste ladder.

The novel is not, in any way, an apology for the matriarchal system. But, it is an exploration of the matriarchal world that the young protagonist (Nitya) grows up in, which is sad, strange, cruel, and unfair. The matriarchal system, at least as delineated in the novel by the five Ammalkan sisters, is an insulated, obsessive world. These are characters who live in the past and feed voraciously on it. The circumstances of their lives as children, what they did, and what was done to them in the past make them predictable in each other’s eyes and incapable of any substantial change in the future. The novel follows the careers of the Ammalkans and documents the prolonged pain and anguish they inflict on each other through their cruel and mindless actions.

One can only hope we are working towards equalizing all genders, but this is a long-term goal that depends primarily on education and creating a public consciousness that will lead in time to the slow erosion of intolerance and prejudice. 

For the moment, we should continue to challenge the vicious patriarchy that is the bane of our private and national lives. And it is to the credit of the Ammalkans- the matriarchs in the novel- that they consistently challenge the status that has been allotted to them; in fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that some of them were ‘feminists’ long before they even knew what the word meant. 

Frontlist: You have shed light on Buddha’s journey of “Change.” How do you perceive life, and what message do you think his story imparts to readers? 

Krishna: It is important to remember that it was not the transcendence Buddha sought – it was Change. I am fascinated by the historical facts and events surrounding the life of the Buddha. We have this rather unfair image of him as a permanently enlightened being. Still, it is useful to remember that he was Gautama once, a man in the real world, married for 13 years with a son Rahula, waiting for when he would ascend the throne and become king. But he is also a young man with a dilemma – things have never been the same after it becomes clear to him that nothing is more absolute in the world than suffering. He is 29 years old when he walks away forever from the kingdom he was born to rule. He is barely 35 when he declares himself enlightened. And what people forget is that he lived on as an enlightened man for another 45 years. He worked very hard during that time, like all material or spiritual promoters, preaching sermons and courting patrons for his newly founded religion. 

One of the characters in the novel refers to him affectionately as Dr. G. Buddha because he was “an uncommon doctor who took the most revolutionary reading of his pulse, diagnosed his disease as a case of chronic suffering, and then wrote up, for himself and humanity, a series of prescriptions to alleviate that permanent condition.”

The Buddha speaks of a clear mind and a kind heart in his newly illuminated state. He says he wants us to be awake, which is his greatest message – To wake up little by little and be aware enough to see the world for what it is.

Frontlist: In a phrase in your book, you referred to humans as “Stray Dogs.” What was your notion behind this remark? 

Krishna: Milan Kundera talks somewhere about how the characters in his novels are his unrealized possibilities, which is why he is both fond of them and equally horrified by them! The stray dogs of the title are the rootless characters of the novel, stray men and women scavenging like dogs in the streets of their own imaginations, not for food or bones but for scraps of real emotions. I think writers often create a parallel universe which is unique to their own imagination or experience, a universe that wouldn’t exist without them. In that universe, most of the characters in the novel are stray dogs, barking at an unjust world and sniffing at the great heap of discarded emotions that litter the streets of their imagination!

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