A Life of Adventure and Delight : Akhil Sharma
By Kaity Hauge, Official ZEE JLF@Boulder Blogger
This afternoon, Author Akhil Sharma graced the stage at the Jaipur Literature Festival to speak about his new collection of short stories entitled “A Life of Adventure and Delight.” This ironic title is host to a variety of short vignettes written by Sharma over a period of 20 years, which peer into the lives of dysfunctional, miserable people. Though each story is self-contained with its own unique cast of characters, the stories are harnessed together with a pattern of themes which explore how people build (and destroy) relationships with others. Of his experience compiling over 2 decades worth of work into a single entity Sharma said: “Even though I may be a slightly better writer now than I was when I was 19, I still worry about all of the same things.”
The panel explored several major stories and themes in depth, including love, religion, and self-awareness. Sharma also spoke of the contrasts between life in American society and life in Indian society. The stories touch on many of the characteristics that set these cultures apart, particularly arranged marriages, body image and misogyny. But the purpose of these contrasts, far from illustrating a vast disparity, serve to instead depict how patterns in disparate cultures are almost always different manifestations of the same basic principles.
In my humble opinion, the most interesting and illuminating discussion of thematic elements came in the form of a short discussion on the theme of smell throughout the stories in “A Life of Adventure and Delight”. When interviewer Maeve Conran asked Sharma about this theme, Sharma responded that his character’s desire to smell good and awareness of smells always stemmed from a place of self-consciousness and a desire to be appealing to others. The characters in his stories pay particular attention to being cleanly out of a desire not to create more differences between oneself and others. “We want not only to be tolerated by others, but to be adored.” Though the grooming and bathing practices depicted in Sharma’s stories of people in both India and America may be vastly different, the desire to be clean and to be similar to others is a grossly human experience which transcends cultural boundaries.
After a discussion of thematic elements, the panel also discussed the narrative structure and the concept of fiction as a whole. The essence of this final part of the panel discussion can be best summarized in Sharma’s own words: “A boy walks into a room. There is no boy, and there is no room. Fiction is just a construct. What is it that you are trying to generate? All of the machinery in fiction is a way to create emotion inside a reader and have that emotion run from one place to another.”
Photo Credit – Will Hauge