Friday December 11, 2020   |   Tino de Sa

This time around we at Bookaholicanonymous are proud to bring to you an interview with Tino de Sa (nom de plume of Anthony de Sa), a respected bureaucrat and a well-known author from Madhya Pradesh. People who say they don’t have time to pursue their passion can take a leaf out of his life. He truly stands for ‘where there is passion, there is will’.  

About Tino de Sa: He grew up a thousand miles away from his ancestral island - village of Divar, Goa, in the dusty little central Indian railway town of Bhusaval, where his father ran a picture house and, off and on, was Mayor. He took degrees at St. Xavier’s College in Bombay and then, as a Mason Fellow, at Harvard in the USA. He joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1980. His varied assignments included a stint with the United Nations, and culminated in his being the longest serving Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh. Some of his poems have been included in anthologies of the Poetry Society of India and Delhi Poetree. He is the winner of a first prize in The Times of India national short story competition. This is his second published collection of short stories, the first being The Disrobing of Draupadi and Other Stories. Tino de Sa is the nom de plume of Anthony de Sa.


The interview

You have been a very successful bureaucrat; tell us how did you find time for creative writing?

Writing is - has always been - a passion of mine. True, with the pressures of work one does not always get the time to write creatively (though some would assert that what bureaucrats write in files is nothing if not 'creative' :)). Jokes apart, while in service I did write a number of 'middles' for newspapers - almost twenty of them over the years, and a great deal of poetry - which I must confess, is my first love. Then suddenly, after retiring as Chief Secretary, I entered the Times of India National Short Story Competition for a lark. I was thrilled when I was awarded the first prize, and that set me off. My current assignment permits me to find much more time to devote to writing for pleasure.

In your book One for Sorrow Two for Joy one comes to the slow realisation that truth is several layers deep and is seldom what it seems at first, is this what you were trying to tell your readers?

Indeed it is. Things are seldom what they seem on the surface. In spite of what many would like it to be, truth is never black and white; it is more like several shades of varied grey. People too are never just good or bad. It is only in fairy tales that one dimensional characters exist. Any writing worth its salt would need to rise above flat portrayal.

The above mentioned book is based in Goa, the state where you come from. What fascinates you about Goa?

My ancestors came from Goa; I was born and brought up in Maharashtra; and the bulk of my career has been spent in Madhya Pradesh. Each of these states have given me more than I can ever repay. They have made me what I am. I like to say that while India is my matrubhumi, Maharashtra is my janmabhumi, Madhya Pradesh is my karmabhumi and Goa is my pitribhumi. Goa represents the roots of my cultural heritage.

You have dealt with mythical creatures and human vices in your stories in One for Sorrow Two for Joy, which is part of a popular rhyme and it compels one to buy it. Tell us your thoughts behind this title? 

Actually, I haven't really written of mythical creatures - but real people. Sometimes, real people, when seen through the eyes of a child, can seem mythical.

Your last story in The Disrobing of Draupadi and Other Stories is based on Bhopal’s past; you seem to be particularly attracted towards the Nawab Begums for your characters. What particularly impresses you about the Muslim nobility of Bhopal, particularly in these times of growing intolerance?

The Bhopali heritage is a vibrant example of Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb, the composite culture of our country. Many communities have contributed to its social fabric, but the dynasty founded by Dost Muhammad is the chief among these strands. The succession of Begums who ruled Bhopal for over a century is a unique and unparallelled phenomenon in Indian history. Everywhere else - whether it be Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi or Razia Sultan of Delhi or Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore - women rulers were an exception, flashes in the pan so to say. But in Bhopal alone did four of them rule almost continuously for over a century. And their rule was progressive and remarkable for their times. This is material for many great stories, I feel.

What else can one expect from your book The Disrobing of Draupadi and Other Stories?

My stories cover a number of different situations and plots. The themes encompass incest, murder, suicide and homosexuality. But they also include love and laughter and hope and history re-imagined.

You have a very simple, easy to comprehend Ruskin Bond style of writing on everyday occurrences. Who do you actually emulate in short story writing?

I believe a good story is one that the reader enjoys. Much as I like writing, I do not write for myself. I write for my reader. A writer's job is to communicate. And a twist in tale never hurts. I have not consciously tried to emulate anyone in particular - but yes, O. Henry, Jeffrey Archer, Roald Dahl, Ruskin Bond and R K Narayan are writers whom I have grown up admiring. Of course, today there are a host of great story-tellers, too many to name.

When can we hear about a fictional/biographical account of your bureaucratic life? At the Bhopal Lit Fest while launching your book One for Sorrow, Two for Joy the former CM of Madhya Pradesh, Mr Kamal Nath recounted the time he gifted you the book English August-An Indian Story by Upmanyu Chatterjee, when you were Collector of Chinndwara. We hope your account will be as frank and entertaining as English August when you finally decide to write a novel.

Well, one of my stories in The Disrobing of Draupadi is, in a sense, based on my own bureaucratic experiences. As for an autobiography - I'm not ready for that as yet. It is generally said that an autobiography is the last book one should write - and I do think I have some more stuff up my sleeve before I get to that stage!

We all know that Goa always titillates a creative person, what has been your creative inspiration in Madhya Pradesh?

As I mentioned before, having spent a great deal of my adult life in Madhya Pradesh, there is much here that offers rich material. A number of my stories are, in fact, based in Madhya Pradesh. Perhaps my next book will have a few more.

What can we expect from you next? Are you writing something?

I am working on a third collection of short stories, which will include several prize winning stories, including the second time I won the Times national competition - this story is a murder mystery set in ancient Ujjain, and was selected by Amish Tripathi as the prize winner. I have also completed a novel for children, and am working on a 'readable' history of Goa.

           Sir, we at Bookaholicanonymous are eagerly waiting for your next book! 

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